Meet the Brussels Binder, a free online database whose main goal is to tackle female under-representantion in policy debates in Brussels. We interviewed Virginia Marantidou, a founding member of the initiative – which will be officially launched on 31 January – and one of the website/database coordinators along with Alazne Irigoien and Natalia Macyra.
The Digital Post: Why a Brussels Binder is needed? What makes this initiative necessary?
Virginia Marantidou: There is an evident under-representation of female voices in policy debates in Brussels. According to EUPanel watch, an initiative that monitors events in Brussels and reports on their gender balance, in 2017 out of 380 debates monitored with over 1700 speakers only 1/3 of them was women. The Brussels Binder aims to address this under-representation.
The initiative started from a group of women who work in various think-tanks and had a first-hand experience of this situation not only as conference participants but also as organizers. We would often reach out to colleagues to suggest to us speakers and experts for a panel we organized and we would get only male names.
It was like we had fallen in a loop, every time the same thing. At some point we would email each other and our female networks for recommendations on women experts, and guess what? There were plenty of them out there.
Similarly, we got fed up with seeing male-dominated or all male panels in Brussels and every time we asked how come there were not enough women or even none in a panel, organizers would answer that they tried but couldn’t find one.
That is when we realized we needed to take action and somehow give visibility to female policy experts but also eliminate the excuse that “we couldn’t find any woman expert to invite” or “there are not enough women experts on this field”. This is how the Brussels Binder, a database of women experts was conceived, as a go-to resource for media and conference organizers.
So what makes this initiative necessary? It stems from the necessity to have gender-balanced policy discussions. Policy debates influence actual policy-making and thus they need to be reflective of the societies they take place in.
TDP: How does it work?
VM: The BB is a publicly open and free online database of female policy experts. It is really user-friendly and very intuitive to navigate. Women experts can register on our website and once they submit their registration, they are redirected to the profile page where they can fill in fields with their current position, expertise, years of experience, short bio, and other relevant information.
They also have the opportunity to upload their publications, videos of their participation in debates and whatever information they think is best in order to promote their profile. Then, within 24 to 48 hours the profile goes through a quality check and it is published online.
I should note that we do not set specific age, years of experience, or areas of expertise criteria as compulsory for someone to be able to create their profile, since we believe that each of us deserves an opportunity to increase their professional profile and in the end your work speaks for you.
Mistakenly, it is usually considered that only CEOs or senior professionals can be experts or can authoritatively speak on a panel, especially when it comes to women. For us everyone should have a chance.
Users do not need to register. Anyone can go online, use the search engine, and filter by various fields. Users can also recommend an expert who will then be invited to join the database.
TDP: What are the activities the BB is planning in the near future?
VM: We have our official launch on the 31st of January. The event is kindly hosted by the Representation of State of Hessen to the EU and supported by Google and FTI.
It will be basically a big party to celebrate the fruition of the project but also to celebrate a community that shares our values and concerns, believes in our goals and supports them. But the main focus after the event is to populate the database, have women trust it as a career promotion tool, make sure that users search yields results and a proper matching takes place.
The end goal is that more women will feature on panels, on the news, and publications in the near future. Last, another goal for us is to have a platform that centralizes information of the various women’s and gender-related initiatives and organizations in Brussels.
TDP: How digital technologies are relevant for an initiative such Brussels Binder?
VM: Digital technologies are providing excellent tools to easily share knowledge, connect people and amplify messages. The BB has benefitted on all these aspects. We started with an online crowd-funding campaign.
This tool did not only help raise funds for the project but also allowed people to be part of it, and by investing their money and time on a common cause it helped forge a community even before we had the actual database. And then we built a tech tool that incorporates knowledge sharing and network building.
TDP: The ICT sector is considered as a laggard in terms of gender balance. From your point of view, what policies at EU level can help fix this problem?
VM: Well although I am not an ICT expert and have not worked in this sector it seems that indeed ICT amongst many other sectors is male-dominated. Specifically the problem is found on the higher echelons of companies. Most major ICT companies nowadays are publishing statistics on their gender balance and diversity, and the steps they take towards more equality and diversity in their people operations.
Still the number of women in tech is below 20% of the total human power in the sector, according actually to Facebook’s “Diversity Update”. It seems that the problem of low participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) starts from an early age in first levels of education.
The reasons amongst others are stereotyping, such as teaching and learning materials permeating gender stereotypes, or girls being less encouraged by parents and teachers to study and follow STEM professionally. Also, lack of role models is another issue, the lack of female teachers in STEM subjects.
Therefore, I think EU policies should focus on a gender-responsive education on STEM, and on promoting mentoring opportunities, scholarships and access to tools that will help young women follow a STEM/ICT path.
Picture credits: fotovision47
AT&T wants US Congress to adopt an Open Internet bill, says its CEO Randall Stephenson in an open letter. A new spectacular turn in the US saga over Net Neutrality?
Some might see it as a new spectacular turn in the US saga over Net Neutrality. In an open letter issued yesterday, AT&T Ceo Randal Stephenson called on US Congress ‘to establish an “Internet Bill of Rights” that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users’.
The text marks an unprecedented step, which might have an impact coming from the world’s largest telecommunication company.
In the letter, Stephenson assures AT&T will stay committed to the open internet principles, but argues ‘that commitment of one company is not enough’, signaling that ‘congressional action is needed’.
Internet rights’ apart, the stance of AT&T is also driven by the perceived risk that the endless legal battle over Net Neutrality is producing too much uncertainty, at the expense of investment decisions.
‘Regulators under four different presidents have taken four different approaches. Courts have overturned regulatory decisions. [..] It’s understandably confusing and a bit concerning when you hear the rules have recently changed, yet again’, writes Stephenson.
In December the FCC reversed the decision voted in 2015 to reclassify high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service, instead of an information service, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
Taken in order to enforce strict net neutrality rules on Internet service providers, the precedent decision had de facto exposed Internet providers to the possibility of heavy regulation dating back to “the phone company era”, although FCC had opted to apply only some provisions of Title II.
The new vote restores a light-touch approach, but the last word has not been said, as the decision is being challenged in federal courts, where it could be stuck for years.
The text signed by Stephenson follows another open letter to FCC signed by 141 members of the EP pleading for a Net Neutrality bill in the US. The EU adopted its own net neutrality legislation in November 2015.
Picture Credits: Ozzy Delaney
We are a “latecomer” in the introduction and exploitation of new technologies. However, there is political will to continue the necessary reforms at a rapid pace, says Nikos Pappas, Greek Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media.
The Digital Post: What are the key points of Greece’s National Digital Strategy? What do you expect to achieve in the long term?
Nikos Pappas: The Greek economy, after 7 years of crisis and recession, has shown several signs of recovery. Growth has returned after many years and it is expected to reach 2% for 2017, unemployment has fallen by 6% over the past 2.5 years, while new jobs exceed the number of 350,000 from 2015 until now.
At the same time, investment grew by 11.2% in the first half of 2017, the general industrial production index by 6% in the same period, exports increased by 25.8% in May 2017 and tourism broke a new record of 30 million arrivals in our country for 2017.
But these figures are not meant to stay on paper.
Our government’s goal is to diffuse the benefits of growth across society, that is to achieve an equitable growth. As Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Media, we are already contributing to the joint effort to exit the crisis and rebuild society by combining new technologies with science, knowledge and entrepreneurship.
By making all citizens participate in the new digital revolution, eliminating the digital divide and offering equal opportunities to all Greeks, we give the country a new push forward.
Our digital policy is in accordance with the objectives set by our National Strategic Plan for Growth, as for us, this sector consists the “main sector of all sectors of the economy”. This is a strategic pillar of development, on which we are going to “build” the growth of all the other sectors – while in the meantime we will make good use of the high level of human potential that we have as a country – and, thanks to the resulting multiplier effects, we will “prepare” the next day for Greece.
In view of the above, we have designed and developed the National Digital Strategy which focuses among other things on:
1. Accelerating the digitization of the economy and 2. the transition of Greek businesses from a traditional to a modern mode of operation, which explores and integrates Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
In this context, we have set the following four priorities: i) Promoting the digitization of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), (ii) Enhancing openness and e-commerce, having as key aims the dissemination of e-commerce and e-invoicing, (iii) Greece’s participation in the 4th Industrial Revolution, supporting actions related to the introduction and expansion of sensor networks, smart grids, autonomous systems, and the implementation of “smart cities” actions – as operators of creating critical mass for the development of relevant technologies by Greek companies, (iv) Accelerating the coordination of national policy for the Single Digital Market with the operation of a central structure that will act as a center of digital excellence.
Our goal is to strengthen our competitiveness and productivity without leaving any citizen behind. Our goal is to bring “the future into the present, for everyone”.
TDP: Greece suffers from relatively low levels of digital literacy and digital skills. What are the plans to tackle this issue?
NP: We have no illusions about where our country stands: due to responsibilities of previous governments we have stayed behind. We are now ranked 26th in the DESI index against 28 countries in Europe, as we have achieved one of the top five performances in the EU in the last year.
We are a “latecomer” in the introduction and exploitation of new technologies. However, there is political will to continue the necessary reforms at a rapid pace, but also to take advantage of the highly skilled workforce (with more than 5,000 graduates each year in cutting-edge sectors of technology) that the country has, without leaving society behind.
We are working in collaboration with Panteion University on the first platform for Greece of massive open online courses (MOOCs) with very first subject the Education in Media and Digital Technologies. We want the citizens of the country and – above all – children and young people to be able to decrypt, encode and process modern technologies. We want them not only to be the recipients of this signal, but also creators and equal partners in a development effort based on knowledge and information economy. We want citizens to feel safe and confident in managing new technology and data. And we make it real.
High-speed networks are also included in our planning, so that every corner of the country, every household in Greece reaches a fiber optic network.
Two major nationwide projects – the ‘Superfast Broadband’ and ‘Rural Extension’ projects – with a total budget of around € 500 million, have already been approved for the deployment of a nationwide broadband access network in urban, island, mountainous and minority areas. The two projects are fully compatible with the EU-approved National Plan for the Development of Next Generation Networks (NGA Plan). The process has already begun for the development of the state-of-the-art technological infrastructure needed for the country in order to carry out the transition to the digital economy and to create a new competitive development model.
Moreover, our action on the development of the Internet in the Greek islands is focused on the provision of state subsidies to the permanent residents of thirty-five (35) remote Aegean islands in order to acquire a mobile broadband Internet connection for about 11,000 households and at least 22,000 eligible citizens. Our goal is to achieve a significant increase in the penetration of broadband in the Greek territory, but also to make the beneficiaries familiar with the modern and rapidly evolving broadband services and applications.
A similar program has already been implemented for the first-year students of Greek Universities and Technological Educational Institutions, and will soon be extended to benefit vulnerable social groups such as Persons with Disabilities.
Worth mentioning, among other actions, is the project of the digitization of Public Administration: a project on digital circulation-management of state documents, in which digital signatures will be used.
A pilot project was initially implemented at the Ministry of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information. Its cost for the Sate rose over 59.5 thousand euros, which will be recovered from the first month of its operation, as the annual savings expected for our Ministry will amount to 700.000 euros. In the following period the same system will be installed in all Ministries, and then will pass to Local Government Administration and Chambers. Due to the operation of the new platform, besides the digitization of Public Administration, we are estimated to achieve savings of 400 million euro per year for the entire public sector.
TDP: One bright spot is Greece’s thriving startup scene. How the government is supporting its development?
NP: It is our main priority to create a favorable environment for start-ups in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) field. Supporting the openness of start-ups and forming business clusters as well as research and development support actions have begun to bear fruit and their completion will be stepped up in the future.
Another worth mentioning initiative is the integration of businesses involved in the sector into the Needs Entrepreneurship Program, which provides about 120 million Euros for the support of Greek start-ups. In addition, as part of private initiative funding, we participate in the “Fund of Funds” program, which, in cooperation with the European Investment Fund, provides financing of 260 million euros to small and medium-sized enterprises, giving priority to ICT.
TDP: What are from your point of view the most important actions of the European digital single market strategy?
NP: I recently welcomed in Greece the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel. It was her first trip to a member state after taking up her duties. We are collaborating closely with the Commissioner on a number of issues, including the modernization of public services, which, as it is clear, goes through their digitization.
I think we are halfway in terms of our transition to the digital single market. If we succeed in what consists the first priority of Digital Policies for Europe and which is nothing else but the development of digital skills of European citizens, then we will actually make the difference.
Besides, to us, everything starts from and ends up to the citizens. It is for their sake that we want to bring the future into the present. Actually, it is for everyone’s sake.
Picture credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos
Valentinos Tzekas, is a 20 year-old student born in Larissa, but already a serial entrepreneur. After an early success with the social network ‘’Near’’ he has developed an algorithm to fight fake news…
TDP: What is considered truth according to FightHoax.com?
Valentinos Tzekas: True for our algorithm is what independent, non-for-profit news sources like Associated Press have fact-checked and already covered. Also, we are considering truth, what independent fact-checking organizations like Politifact, Snopes and others have fact-checked.
TDP: How does FightHoax work?
VT: First of all, FightHoax analyses the history and reputation of the website which hosts a given news article: Is the website known for posting a lot of fake news like abcnews.com.co, is the website known for posting consecutively trusted articles like the Associated Press or something more in the middle like Fox News or Daily Mail? Then, FightHoax analyses the author of the article and his history. Is it a well known with a reputable past in respected news outlets, is it someone who is a university teacher or someone with no active past in the news industry?
At last and more importantly, the article is analyzed. From the language used to the facts stated, we compare every tiny aspect of the article with more trusted articles on the same topic. FightHoax reads and understands the article like a human. At the same time, we scan the whole web, like a database, in seconds. Do the other articles on the same event, have important differences? Has the article enough information for us to compare? Is the language quality good? Is the syntactic similarity high but not the semantic one?
These are the 3 main pillars of FightHoax’s algorithm. After having analyzed hundreds and hundreds of articles, each variable has almost the perfect mathematical weight.
TDP: What is your vision for FightHoax after the beta period? Who you aim to be the ultimate users?
VT: My long-term vision is to help the everyday people. As I said before: “Right now, if you think about it, politicians and journalists have the “power of truth”. My mission is to give normal people the power of truth—make them more powerful without the need of having journalistic skills.”
TDP: How big is the threat of fake news? Do you believe European governments are exaggerating the risks?
VT: Fact checking articles are exploding, people got misguided in both US and French elections, Macedonian teenager quit college to focus on writing false news so he can earn more than both of his parents, 42% of people said that they don’t trust news on Facebook because “it hasn’t done a good job of curbing fake news.” Germany approved a plan to fine social media companies up to 50 million Euros, every single day, if they fail to remove fake news posts. Yet, Facebook and Google are trying to solve the mass misinformation issue with just one more report button. I do believe that the very next months, we are going to be hit by the next wave of misinformation. We have to be prepared.
TDP: Do you think there is a risk that government efforts to tackle fake news be could come in contradiction with the respect of freedom of expression on the internet? And, more importantly, do you think that it is possible to counter the phenomenon through legislation?
VT: I do believe that we need a human level solution. Legislations and high tech are not going to fix the problem. We need media literacy platforms and initiatives.
This is why, we are trying to tackle the fake news problem on a human level by exposing every angle of any news story, in seconds. We do not need truth-or-not machines. Critical thinking and quality news consumption skills is a must skill-set for every 2.0 citizen.
TDP: What kind of challenges do you think that a young entrepreneur in Greece faces compared to other EU peers?
VT: I think that in Greece we have lost our hope. We have become miserable and this is much worse than being poor. When I was 18, I shared some of my thoughts with Forbes. You can read them, here. I still believe and support the same as a serial entrepreneur acting in Greece. Sooner or later, I will move my business and my life, abroad.
Photo credits by: Bank Phrom
The Digital Post has spoken with Krzysztof Szubert, Polish Secretary of State in charge of Digital Single Market: There should be more clarity and organization in the way different European commissioners are involved in the digital files.
The Digital Post: You were appointed in march Secretary of State, responsible for international affairs at the Ministry of Digital Affairs in Poland. But you are not a politician.
Krzysztof Szubert: Indeed, I spent 20 years in business, running different types of ICT companies. So I am more of an expert in the field. Two years ago, I was asked by the government to join the team as strategic advisor to the Minister of Digital Affairs Mrs. Anna Streżynska to help implement a more project-oriented way of working.
We created a new ministry for digital affairs embarking more people with a business background so as to have a wider expertise within our administration, as well as in management – governance. In March, along with the post of secretary of state, I have also been appointed government plenipotentiary for the coordination of the Digital Single Market Strategy in Poland. In this capacity, I deal with different ministries in order to enable the nationwide implementation of the DSM.
TDP: What are the priorities of your government in Europe in terms of digital policies?
KS: We have been pushing through a large number of files. In Poland we are basically focused on: infrastructure, eGov, eSkills and Cybersecurity. On EU level it is more like: 5G, platforms, cyber and the most important free flow of (non-personal) data. For instance, together with 13 other countries, Poland urged the Commission to take action on free flow of data which resulted in the recent presentation of the free flow of data initiative.
We were quick to realise that it was difficult for us to focus on too many technological issues other countries were very active in and advance, such as the Internet of Things or autonomous vehicles. Therefore, we decided to concentrate our efforts on a fewer number of topics the most important of which is data economy.
Apart from the free flow of data initiative, we have been very active for instance in advocating for more freedom of data exchange in trade agreements. We have been leading the way in calling for the removal of protectionist measures that prevent our businesses from making the most of the opportunities of the data economy.
TDP: What about future actions?
KS: We are taking a step further. We want to show how important data are for our economy and what their real value in terms of GDP or Euro is. According to a study that our ministry commissioned, data-driven productivity accounts for 40% of total productivity and has a significant impact on GDP per capita.
Hence the importance of focusing on this field to reap the highest possible economic benefits. The economy in the future will depend more and more on data. In order to seize this opportunity, Europe has to prepare for this transformation. We want to lead the way in this work, but it is always good to remember that digital transformation – we are in front of – is about people, not technology.
TDP: Making the most of data economy is also a priority for the Digital Single Market strategy. Do you think the strategy is delivering? What are the main obstacles you see?
KS: I see two areas to work on. The first one is about coordination, both on the EU and member states level I believe there should be more clarity and organization in the way different commissioners are involved in the digital files and strategy in order to avoid confusion.
The second issue is about trust among member states: The good example is “digital” Like-Minded group of member states and I would strongly recommend others to join that informal group. We need more of it. In principle, all governments agree that we need to build a digital single market but when it comes to details they start disagreeing a lot.
I think we should come to terms with the idea that the DSM will provide varying benefits to our states, perhaps there will be winners next to losers in some areas. Nevertheless the long term benefits DSM can bring about for Europe will compensate for everything. Our governments are spending perhaps too much time discussing whether or not to act now. Other economies, the ones which we are competing with, such as China or the US, are not waiting for us to catch up with them.
TDP: What we are discussing a lot right now is the so-called web tax. What is your position?
KS: The idea came from Italy, Germany, France, Spain. Before we take a position we have to see the details first. We are not against this taxation but we made clear that we are against putting it through European models, such as the common corporate tax base (CCTB) and a common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB). We’d prefer to leave it to national level, through a sort of an equalization tax or an equalization levy, or to promote an action within the OECD framework.
Picture credits: Tim Parkinson
Filippos Zakopoulos the Executive Director of the Found.ation, discusses the evolution of the start-ups ecosystem in Greece and the Balkan region and how the European Union is supporting and enabling further growth.
The Digital Post: How the Found.ation operates to help tech startups build?
Filippos Zakopoulos: Found.ation has been a key player in the startup scene since 2011. Starting as a co-working space and then acting as an incubator, it has provided a great number of startups with valuable advice and access to a big network of key players of the startup ecosystem, such as mentors and investors. Also, having some of Greece’s largest companies as its clients, Found.ation has contributed in organizing acceleration programs, innovation competitions and hackathons, thus contributing in creating more opportunities for Greek startups, as well as startups from the greater Balkan region.
Looking more specifically into the acceleration and incubation pillar, a number of the companies that have taken part in Found.ation’s programs have raised 6M Euro in funding from local and international VCs. This corresponds to 15% of all VC-backed technology companies in Greece during 2013-2016.
Moreover, Found.ation acts as the local touchpoint for many international institutional investors, VCs and accelerators. Found.ation events have hosted so far Seedcamp, TheFamily, T-Ventures, Hub:raum, Axel Springer Plug&Play, Eleven, Launchub, Kompass Digital, Mojo Capital, 212 Ventures and the European Investment Fund, among others. Since 2015, Found.ation signed an exclusive agreement with the European open innovation organization EIT Digital, under the Arise Europe Program, with the objective of strengthening the Greek startup ecosystem, through the implementation of common, well-structured initiatives. The aim of the collaboration is to foster the ecosystem, support startups, give them faster access to the wider European market and hook them up with potential investors.
TDP: What are the plans for the forthcoming future?
FZ: Found.ation originally established in 2011 as one of the first co-working spaces in SE Europe, but has evolved also as a digital transformation consultant for corporations and a tech education hub. Our team strongly believes in the interaction between established corporations and startups. One of the key roles of Found.ation is to highlight these opportunities for cooperation between these two polar opposites and we already work with companies and organizations such as COSMOTE (Greece’s top telecommunication provider), Eurobank (one of the country’s largest banks) and the Municipality of Athens to make this happen. But startups are not the only ones to benefit from this kind of cooperation. Incumbents need to transform in order to stay agile and competitive and Found.ation helps them design innovative digital strategies, by teaching them how to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset.
TDP: How do you see the European startups ecosystem evolving?
ZP: Europe is still far from becoming a new Silicon Valley, but on a more local level there are a lot of cities emerging as mature hubs, providing fertile soil for entrepreneurial bloom, like Amsterdam, Paris and Stockholm, among established spots like Berlin and London. The rest of the European countries are following their lead –Hungary and Estonia are emerging nods–, although they have yet a lot of distance to cover. Even in Southern and Eastern Europe, where the financial situation poses a significant barrier for prosperity, one can see optimistic signs of progress.
TDP: Is the European Union doing enough? What further actions should be taken in your view?
ZP: The first step towards solving a problem is identifying it. Europe has understood that it needs to take action and help local startup ecosystems in order for them to help boost their countries’ economies. A good example in this direction is the launch of EquiFund in Greece, part of the Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe. The new €260m Fund-of-Funds program, managed by the European Investment Fund, aims to boost entrepreneurship, by attracting private funding to all investment stages of the local equity market. But unlocking the equity potential in the market is only one part of the equation. The next step is to create policies that will enhance survivability and strengthen the ecosystem, such as tax and regulatory incentives. These measures need to be applied in local as well as pan-European level.
The Digital Post talks with President of the International Olympiad in Informatics Krassimir Manev about the first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics, taking place in Sofia from 7 to 13 September 2017. His recipe to fix Europe’s digital skills gap: Regular teaching of Informatics and Information Technologies from the first to very last year of school education.
The Digital Post: The first European Junior Olympiads in Informatics are opening today. How the will it work?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: International Olympiads in Informatics are not new. Back in 1989, Bulgaria organized the first international contest for school students – the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). In 2007, Serbia hosted the first Olympiad in Informatics for students aged 15,5 in the middle of the year of the contest – the Junior Balkan Olympiad in Informatics (JBOI) – it is a small contest and is not organized every year.
The event that is starting today – the first European Junior Olympiad in Informatics eJOI (http://ejoi.org/) gathers students of the abovementioned age from 22 Council of Europe member countries – more than the number of countries that took part in the first IOI. Among them are four of the first five countries in the eternal ranking of IOI (Russia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria). We expect to have a very interesting and unpredictable competition of the best European young programmers. And we are also confident that eJOI will soon become one of the most successful events in the area of competitive programming and the results of the contestants from Europe will improve.
The Digital Post: What is its main purpose of the initiative?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: Our main goal is to demonstrate that teaching algorithms and programming for students of age 13-15 is absolutely possible. And more specifically, that young students could achieve better level of knowledge and skills in Informatics when thay start early. We are sure that this is the right way to go and a guarantee for successfull career in the filed. Тhat is why me and my colleagues have made significant efforts to organize international competitions for junior students – the JBOI first and eJOI now.
The Digital Post: The International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) are a well known, thirty-year long successful story. Where do you see it going in the following years?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: The IOI made significant progress in the past 30 years. First contest had one competition day and contestants had to solve a single task for 4 hours. Now IOI is two day contest with three tasks each day for 4 hours each day. In 1989, in order to solve the task, contestants had to modify a classic algorithm from the textbooks (BFS, for people that know what this means). Today, if somebody proposes such task for a contest of the juniors it will be rejected as too easy.
For 30 years IOI made a substantial progress and evolved a lot – instead of reproducing and modifying classic algorithms from textbooks nowadays contestants have to construct/invent algorithms that are not published in any textbook. Sometimes students that participate in IOI create algorithms that are eligible to be published in a scientific journal. My imagination is not enough to predict what will happen in IOI in 10 years. The only thing that I am sure of is that the progress will continue.
The Digital Post: Digital skills gap is still a major challenge for Europe despite the increasing efforts to address it. In your view, what might be the good recipe to tackle the problem, especially on the side of education?
Prof. Krassimir Manev: My answer is clear. I have stated this many years ago, I did not change my opinion since that time and probably I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to plead for implementing this – regular teaching of Informatics and Information Tecnologies from the first to very last year of school education. The Olympiad that we start today is one of the arguments in favor of the idea! I hope that the authorities from European institutions will understand what I’m pleading for and will support our efforts – in general and in particular to make eJOI a tradition.
For more information check the webpage of the initative: http://ejoi.org/
Picture credits: slimmer_jimmer
Four MEPs write in an open letter why they believe the merger between 21st Century Fox and Sky might be a danger for Europe as a whole.
Though recently cleared by the EU antitrust regulator, the controversial merger between media giant 21st Century Fox and Sky keeps raising eyebrows also in Brussels. Now it is the turn of 4 prominent MEPs of the Socialist group (Brando Benifei, Neena Gill, Catherine Stihler, Julie Ward).
In a letter addressed to Karen Bradley, UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Matthew Hancock , UK Minister of State for Digital and Culture, they warn that the merger “sparks serious questions about news plurality in the United Kingdom”.
Worse: the letter points out a wider danger at European level. “The merger poses similar questions [of plurality] regarding the broadcasting of sport in Europe, taking into account Sky’s position of dominance,” write the four MEPs.
They quote a report of the Media Reform Coalition which notes that the transaction would “result in the merged entity being the only news and media provider present on all four media platforms at the wholesale level, with a significant presence across them. In particular, the merged entity will effectively become: the largest newspaper provider; the third largest TV news provider; the second largest provider of radio news content; the fourth largest online news provider.”
The letter spells a clear message. Such a huge concentration of power in news media is as much a European as a British problem. Not only given Mr Murdoch operations in other EU countries (Sky offers television, broadband and telephone services to nearly 22 million customers in Austria, Britain, Germany, Ireland and Italy). The point is that if the merger is allowed without enough safeguards, it might sooner or later inspire similar endeavours in other countries of the EU.
A number of EU member states are already taking a worrying path when it comes to media pluralism (take Hungary). The European Union’s commitment to respect freedom and pluralism of the media is firmly enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and has been stressed in Council conclusions. Europe should watch carefully any move that might jeopardise such principle.
Picture Credits: Thomas Van Selus
Free of the shackles of EU law when Brexit becomes a reality then the UK can offer businesses the flexibility that is needed in a modern world. But we need to ensure that key personnel have the ability to travel to and from the UK with as little hindrance as possible, says conservative MP Andrew Bingham.
The Digital Post: What Brexit means for the UK digital economy? A danger? An opportunity?
Andrew Bingham: Brexit presents huge opportunities for the UK in all areas of the economy and the digital economy is no different. Free of the shackles of EU law when Brexit becomes a reality then the UK can offer the flexibility that is needed in a modern world. The digital economy by its very nature is changing rapidly as new technologies emerge, grow and become commonplace. Countries wishing to benefit from these innovations need to be responsive and agile. The UK out of the EU can and, in my opinion, will be both these things.
TDP: Do you think there is a real risk of digital companies relocating outside the UK? How do you plan to counter this?
Andrew Bingham: No I don’t feel that digital companies will look to move out of the UK. The country has a proud record of being at the forefront of technology and innovation and this will continue. The UK is and will remain a good place to do business.
TDP: Broadly speaking, what policies are needed to ensure that UK digital economy will keep thriving outside the EU?
Andrew Bingham: The freedom of movement is a very hot political topic but whilst retaining the ability of the UK to control its own borders, we need to ensure that key personnel have the ability to travel to and from the UK with as little hindrance as possible. During a recent visit to Barcelona looking at the impact of Brexit on the creative sector this was a message that came across. Companies who operate in the EU and the UK have personnel shuttling between their two offices and thereby the two countries regularly. They need to be able to continue to do so.
TDP: The UK startup ecosystem seems very concerned about possible restrictions to freedom of movement for workers resulting from Brexit. That will stop them from recruiting high qualified staff from other countries. What is your opinion?
Andrew Bingham: In line with the previous answer, however I believe that this can easily be addressed. Things operated efficiently before freedom of movement came into being and I believe a return to a similar arrangement is perfectly feasible. With regard to recruiting from other countries, I feel that the UK will remain a centre for digital technologies where the brightest and the best will wish to come and work. The Governments stated aim to create a business friendly environment through a variety of taxation policies and finance initiatives will provide great incentives to start up businesses and encourage existing companies to retain a UK presence.
Picture credit: Kalle Paulsson
Innovation is the backbone of Europe’s capacity to export products and hence to support its economy. This is why any policy adopted by our decision makers should always take account of its impact on the ability to innovate, says Brian Ager, Secretary General at the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT).
The Digital Post: How the global rise of protectionism with increasing adoption of trade restrictive measures, is playing out in Europe? How could it impact on Europe’s competitiveness in the innovation and digital sectors?
Brian Ager: Although protectionism is on the rise worldwide, it is not the silver bullet to address imbalances, as some argue. On the contrary, protectionism is likely to damage European economies.
The EU is a very open economy. While global markets have overall expanded over the last ten years, the EU remains the most important exporting region (in terms of goods and services combined). More than 30 million jobs in the EU depend on trade. Therefore market access, the elimination of trade and investment barriers and adherence to a rules-based global trading system are crucial to the competitiveness of the EU economy and to safeguard employment.
Protectionism may hamper international competition by limiting opportunities to invest abroad. Competition is however essential for economic and technological development, not only in manufacturing, but in particular in the services sector. The EU remains the biggest foreign investor globally and the biggest destination of FDI (although with a sharp decline over the last decade).
We also look forward to positive signals from the US, the most important trade partner for the EU, especially after the protectionist opinions expressed by President Trump. The transatlantic partnership should also include the digital arena. For example, the international free flow of data is a prerequisite for European industry to optimise global business operations through digital technologies.
Existing direct and indirect restrictions to the free flow of data, introduced by countries around the world, however tend to be unnecessarily protectionist and undermine the competitiveness and growth of European companies.
The digital economy is rapidly developing worldwide thanks to the many innovations made. However, we should remain aware that these innovations heavily rely on easy access to market, knowledge and capital – and are characterised by global value chains.
Take for instance micromechanical sensors invented and produced in Germany to equip cell-phones assembled in Asia and then distributed worldwide. From this perspective, the temptation of protectionism seems to go against the tide and put at risk countries that would take this route.
TDP: What are the main findings of your latest Benchmarking Report regarding Europe’s performance in innovation?
Brian Ager: The merits of this report is that it points out where the big key issues are, like the relatively slow pace of digitisation in Europe or the tough global competition in the innovation area. It also recognises that innovation is becoming a critical factor for competitiveness.
In addition, the Benchmarking Report emphasises the strengths of Europe and the EU in particular. For instance, the innovation performance is overall good, with some countries obviously more advanced than others.
Innovation is the backbone of our capacity to export products and hence to support our economy. This is why the report also highlights that policies should take account of their impact on the ability to innovate.
TDP: What are your main recommendations to Europe’s decision-makers as regards supporting Europe’s innovation and digital sectors?
Stimulating innovation and adoption of new technologies as the main driver of sustained economic growth in Europe. Evaluation of every legislation and policy measure with respect to its impact on innovation throughout the policymaking process. (Innovation Principle).
Strengthening of the internal market, in particular by completing the Digital Single Market.
Unleashing the benefits of digitisation by investing in digital infrastructure, key technologies and skills development; supported by a robust regulatory framework, covering security in cyberspace.
Enabling start-ups to scale up by boosting entrepreneurship, access to funding and cutting red tape.
Last but not least, ensuring access to foreign markets while maintaining a level playing field.
TDP: Is the Digital Single Market strategy delivering on its promises to boost Europe’s competitiveness in the digital sector?
Brian Ager: The construction of the Digital Single Market is a key example showing how European cooperation can bring benefits to all.
Europe should strive to achieve a global leadership role in the digital revolution by swiftly implementing an EU-wide harmonised framework, and by setting up standards for the Digital Single Market. This will boost the European economy, make it more competitive and create new jobs across all sectors.
Digitisation brings new opportunities for innovation and for the deployment of new technologies. Europe – as an innovation-driven economy – should grasp these opportunities and turn them into a real competitive advantage for its companies.
Progress made by the European Commission in delivering its Digital Single Market Strategy is a step in the right direction.
Picture credit: Andrew Stawarz
The risk of Internet fragmentation lies more and more with approaches which would have the effect of forcing data (and thus, information and communications) to remain within a particular country or territory, says Jean-Jacques Sahel, Vice-President, Europe (Global Stakeholder Engagement) of ICANN.
The Digital Post: How does the multistakeholder model work in practice, and how does it apply to the stewardship of the IANA functions in the framework of the new status of ICANN?
Jean-Jacques Sahel: The multistakeholder model, put simply, is when you are trying to develop policies or procedures around a specific issue and you involve in the process all the relevant actors associated with it, including those who are able to influence it or those who might be impacted by it.
Ever since ICANN was created, in 1998, the US government expressed the will of handing the IANA functions oversight over to the international community. But it took longer than expected for a number of reasons. At the same time, international attention was growing: people started to realize the importance of the Internet and some questioned why the US had this sole role.
That said, the time between our inception and when the IANA Stewardship transition took place, actually allowed for ICANN and the international multistakeholder community to mature slowly and effectively. After nearly 18 years, we have now a very stable mechanism and strong expertise which can work well independently, without US Government oversight.
TDP: Maybe the Snowden revelations had a role in accelerating the transition?
JJS: That’s what some people have said. In my view, the transition is the result of a combination of several factors. It wasn’t a breakthrough, because we knew it was supposed to happen. It was a natural evolution. In any case, it was an impressive and historical step on a very sensitive issue.
What was impressive as well was the entire process. What we call the multistakeholder process. This involved a global consultation with working groups that were made up of several hundred people from all over the world. Completely different stakeholder groups were involved, many of them not used to responding to consultations or doing international negotiations, etc. We managed an institutional reform that was unprecedented within barely two years.
I also want to draw your attention here to a very important fact, that this continuous evolution is inbuilt within ICANN. We have continuously worked on improving our accountability, which resulted in ICANN undergoing several reforms, specifically three major ones since inception in 1998. We’re proud to be an international institution that put so many efforts at improving, evolving, and reforming itself in that short space of time.
TDP: Why is it better that key internet functions are governed by a multistakeholder model, instead of a multilateral (i.e. only governments) model?
JJS: It’s been the way since we began. This environment allows for the Internet to flourish reflecting the diversity in voices from different regions and stakeholders. For me, the multistakeholder model brings the diversity, and allows us to be transparent which in turn makes us accountable. Our process is based on wide consensus, which implies that completely different stakeholders should agree with each other. I think that in itself brings accountability. The other thing, of course, is the expertise that the multistakeholder model brings in.
TDP: What are the main risks that could threaten the good functioning of internet governance in the following years?
JJS: What is worrisome is the risk of fragmentation. This may not happen automatically, say, with a country that breaks away from the Internet and creates its own internet. No, it may be more about the risk of approaches being taken at national or regional level, for a number of motives, which would have the effect of forcing data, (and thus, information and communications) to remain within a particular country or territory, thus limiting the vast potential benefits that the global nature of the Internet offers in the right environment. We need to remember that the Internet is overwhelmingly a force for good, and we need to work hard to harness it for the benefit of our economies, our societies, and us as individuals. That’s what I work towards through my role at ICANN.
Picture credit: Paul Coyne
The IANA Stewardship Transition was a major catalyst for change. Today, ICANN’s mission and core values have been clarified, and any lingering ambiguities about them have been removed, says ICANN CEO Göran Marby.
The Digital Post: After the contract with the US government expired on Oct. 1, how exactly will ICANN make sure it is accountable to the international multi-stakeholder community?
Göran Marby: Ensuring a strong governance structure and an appropriate number of checks and balances within ICANN was a critical aspect of the transition process.
To replace the U.S. Government’s oversight role, the ICANN community created new powers to hold ICANN the organization and the Board of Directors accountable to the global community of stakeholders. Some of these new powers include rejecting operating plans and budgets, approving or rejecting changes to the Bylaws, removing individual ICANN Board directors, and even the power to recall the entire ICANN Board.
The ICANN community also created a more mature and expanded system, where complaints will be handled more transparently and efficiently. ICANN’s Request for Reconsideration and Independent Review processes are now stronger, which empowers the global community to have a direct line of recourse if they disagree with decisions made by the organization or the Board.
It’s important to note that ICANN is continuously working on enhancing our accountability and transparency with the global community. Since ICANN’s inception in 1998, several accountability reforms have taken place. The first major reform, which was known as the ‘Evolution and Reform Process,’ took place in 2002. Two other reforms occurred in 2010 and 2013.
The IANA Stewardship Transition was a major catalyst for change. Today, ICANN’s mission and core values have been clarified, and any lingering ambiguities about them have been removed. There is now no more disagreement on what ICANN’s mission means, and the scope of the organization’s responsibilities are clear. As CEO my team and I are committed to living up to our mission and work day in, day out to be accountable to our community and through ever increasing transparency show what we are doing.
TDP: Critics continue to argue that the end of US oversight over IANA will pave the way for authoritarian regimes to be able to exercise greater control over the Internet. Is that true?
GM: Absolutely not. In this post-IANA Stewardship Transition environment, there is nothing that increases the role of governments over the Domain Name System (DNS) or ICANN as an organization.
ICANN’s multistakeholder model is designed to ensure that no single entity, whether it be a government, business or other interest group, can capture ICANN or exclude other parties from the decision-making processes.
Features of this model include open processes where anyone can participate, decisions are made by consensus, there are established appeals mechanisms, and a system of transparent and public meetings to discuss policy. But it’s also important to remember that everyone, governments included have a place at ICANN. All voices and stakeholders are welcome in our multistakeholder way of working.
These elements have all been reinforced by the transition, truly evolving ICANN into a more internationally distributed entity, which is accountable to a global community that includes a diverse group of stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds and affiliations.
TDP: Since the WCIT-12 ended in “acrimony,” the issue of who should have policy responsibility for ICANN’s role on the Critical Internet Infrastructure has regularly resurfaced both in the ITU and in the UN CSTD process on “Enhanced Cooperation” . What is your view?
GM: To be clear, the WCIT-12 was not about control of the Internet or of ICANN. It is true there was some debate about the role of ICANN and whether the UN should facilitate Internet governance policy discussions. However, ICANN’s multistakeholder approach for Internet governance was positively recognized by the UN at the WSIS+10 Review discussions at the UNGA in December 2015. Today, with the completion of the IANA Stewardship Transition and removal of the special symbolic role represented historically by the U.S. Government, we have eliminated the leverage used in international debates by some who favour UN facilitation of Internet governance discussions.
It should be understood that ICANN does cooperate with the ITU on several different issues, such as in the WSIS Working Group, at the WSIS forum and in the Open Consultation on Internet policy issues. We are also engaged in the UN CSTD process on “Enhanced Cooperation,” which I am confident will recognize the contribution all stakeholders make on matters of Internet governance.
TDP: In-spite of the efforts made by former European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, the impression is that the EU has seemingly shown not enough commitment, unity and leadership on Internet Governance and ICANN related issues. What is your opinion?
GM: European efforts on Internet governance have increased over the past few years – the IANA Stewardship Transition process was a good demonstration of that. Overall, European governments were heavily engaged in the discussions throughout the process, provided constructive input, and worked in concert with each other. On several issues, their voices were pivotal to finding consensus at the global level.
What’s even more remarkable in regards to Europe’s role in the IANA Stewardship Transition was the huge part played by European stakeholders. Whether they were country code domain registries, NGOs, academics or representatives of the wider business and technical community, Europeans made up roughly 30% of the hundreds of participants involved in the transition discussions.
European stakeholders also held many key leadership positions, and showed that Europe has an important place at the table when shaping ICANN’s future. As with all regions, we hope European stakeholders will continue to grow their involvement at ICANN and in Internet governance issues.
TDP: ICANN plays an important role in bodies such as OECD, ITU and IGF; how do you see this evolving post IANA Transition?
GM: While vitally important for the relationships and management of ICANN, the IANA Stewardship Transition by no means signals that ICANN will change its involvement in broader dialogues on Internet policy issues. ICANN will continue to play its part in international discussions, but to be clear, as it is in line with its mission and bylaws.
We will continue to engage with our partners in the technical community and international bodies such as the ITU, the OECD (where we are Observers on their main Digital Policy Committee), the IGF (which we have supported since its inception in 2005), the Council of Europe and the International Organization of Francophonie.
Picture credit: Dicemanic
The European Commission has recently launched an initiative on the Next Generation Internet, aiming at looking into the Internet of the future, its opportunities as well as challenges. Jesus Villasante from DG Connect explains what to expect from this initiative.
The Digital Post: What are the main goals of the initiative? What is it about?
Jesus Villasante: The Internet has become essential in many aspects of our daily life, for work, education and leisure. The future Internet will be even more pervasive, working with and through many different devices and sensors, and will present completely new functions and characteristics. We have launched the Next Generation Internet Initiative because we believe it is the right time to take a fresh look, with a broad and inclusive perspective, involving from the beginning the various stakeholders: from research, technical and business communities to citizens and civil society.
To help us establishing an initiative which has an impact on the evolution of the Internet, a number of preparatory measures have started:
– an open consultation where people can tell us what they expect from the Internet of the future, running until 9 January 2017
– in order to back up the consultation and provide additional information, we have created an open space for conversations, for additional information, background documents and other materials. This is also where we will launch additional discussions on those topics that raise most interest in the consultation, giving people the opportunity to provide more detailed contributions at a later stage.
– a call for support actions has just been launched in the Horizon 2020 research programme (objective ICT-41). The aim is to identify specific research topics and to create an ecosystem of relevant stakeholders.
TDP: What are the main concerns regarding the future of the Internet?
JV: The Internet becomes more and more important for people and for every economic or societal activity. It creates new business opportunities and new ways for social interaction, from the local to the global scale. Many Internet developments have surpassed any expectations in terms of benefits for citizens and economy. And yet, there are some reasons for concern about further progress. For example citizens lack of control on their own personal data or restrictions on Internet access because of geographical, economic or cultural reasons. These are areas that we need to work on and improve the current situation.
TDP: What are the further opportunities and benefits it could bring?
JV: The future Internet should overcome the shortcomings of today’s Internet. It should provide better services, allow for greater involvement and stimulate participation of people in areas such as public life and decision-making. Only if the future Internet is designed for humans it can meet its full potential for society and economy.
Just an example: today, many Europeans are still reluctant to do their financial transactions online. Fraud, data skimming or other security pitfalls make them hesitate. The Next Generation Internet Initiative should take a fresh look at this type of issues and offer new and reliable technological solutions. It should be designed for people, so that it can meet its full potential for society and economy and reflect the social and ethical values that we enjoy in our societies.
TDP: What is the right approach the EU should take to shape the developments of the Net and not being left behind?
JV: There are three crucial aspects:
First of all, the scope of the Next Generation Internet Initiative should be multi-disciplinary. This means we should address various technological questions and topics, ranging from interoperability to broadband. Also, we need to use more the various technological opportunities arising from advances in research fields such as network architectures, software-defined infrastructures and augmented reality.
Secondly, I think that whatever approach the EU takes, it needs to reflect the European social and ethical values: free, open and more interoperable, yet respecting privacy. Only when we are able to reflect these values on the Net, the future Internet can release its full potential and provide better services, more intelligence, greater involvement and participation.
Last but not least, we should get more people on board for this initiative. There are 615 million Internet users in Europe and many more worldwide which need to have a say in this. The shape of the Next Generation Internet Initiative is not decided behind closed doors, on the contrary: we want to reach out to the brilliant minds with excellent ideas. It is them and that community that can help us to move forward with this ambitious initiative. Of course the evolution of the Internet will be a global endeavour, but Europe shall make a decisive contribution for a better Internet.
Picture credits: Salvatore Vastano
The Commission is convinced that the Privacy Shield lives up to the requirements set out by the European Court of Justice, says Christian Wigand, EC spokesperson for Justice.
The Digital Post: Despite the reassuring statements of the European Commission, the new “Safe Harbour” does not seem out of danger. Is the Privacy Shield enough strong to resist any future attempt to challenge its legal legitimacy?
Christian Wigand: As we have said from the beginning, the Commission is convinced that the Privacy Shield lives up to the requirements set out by the European Court of Justice, which have been the basis for the negotiations. We used the ECJ ruling as a “benchmark” in the final phase of the negotiations, let me explain how three key requirements have been addressed:
– The European Court of Justice required limitations for access to personal data for national security purposes and the availability of independent oversight and redress mechanisms.
The U.S. ruled out indiscriminate mass surveillance on the personal data transferred to the US under this arrangement and for the first time, has given written commitments in this respect to the EU. For complaints on possible access by national intelligence authorities, a new Ombudsperson will be set up, independent from the intelligence services.
– The Court required a regular review of the adequacy decisions.
There will be an annual joint review to regularly review the functioning of the arrangement, which will also include the issue of national security access.
– The Court required that all individual complaints about the way U.S. companies process their personal data are investigated and resolved.
There will be a number of ways to address complaints, starting with dispute resolution by the company and free of charge alternative dispute resolution solutions. Citizens can also go to the Data protection authorities who will work together with the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that complaints by EU citizens are investigated and resolved. If a case is not resolved by any of the other means, as a last resort there will be an arbitration mechanism. Redress possibility in the area of national security for EU citizens’ will be handled by an Ombudsman independent from the US intelligence services
TDP: Three months ago French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and his German counterpart, Thomas de Maizière, called on the EU to adopt a law that would require apps companies to make encrypted messages available to law enforcement. What is the official position of the Commission on this particular issue? Is the Commission working on a proposal?
CW: Encryption is widely recognised as an essential tool for security and trust in open networks. It can play a crucial role, together with other measures, to protect information, including personal data, hence reducing the impact of data breaches and security incidents. However, the use of encryption should not prevent competent authorities from safeguarding important public interests in accordance with the procedures, conditions and safeguards set forth by law.
The current Data Protection Directive (which also applies to the so-called over-the-top service providers such as WhatsApp or Skype) allows Member States to restrict the scope of certain data protection rights where necessary and proportionate to, for instance, safeguard national security, and the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences.
The new General Data Protection Regulation (which will apply as from 25 May 2018) maintains these restrictions.
TDP: According to a survey published recently by Dell most firms are unprepared for the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations less than 18 months before it enters into force. Are you worried about that?
CW: To make the new data protection rules work in practice is a priority for us and we work closely with all stakeholders on that. The European Commission has set out a number of measures to make sure that companies operating in the European Union as well as national regulators will be ready for the new rules. There is work ongoing on all levels, with data protection authorities, industry representatives, data protection experts from Member States and of course national governments. For example, there are monthly meetings with Member States authorities on implementation. At the same time we are setting up a network between the Commission and national authorities to exchange information on the implementation of the Regulation and to share good practices.
Picture credits: U.S. Army
Even though ‘traditional’ public service TV and radio remain very popular, we want to consolidate the important role public service media has to play in the digital environment, says Nicola Frank, Head of European Affairs of the EBU. Here’s her opinion on the main legislative proposals of the Digital Single Market strategy.
The Digital Post: What are the priority issues for EBU on the EU digital policy agenda?
Nicola Frank: Digital Single Market policies are crucial because they will impact the way programmes are licensed, distributed and presented to viewers. We want to make sure that our content reaches citizens on all devices, which calls for licensing tools which are fit for the digital environment as well as rules ensuring that all relevant networks carry our programmes, and significant platforms and interfaces display our services prominently to users. This is very important for cultural diversity and media pluralism.
The way citizens access TV and radio programmes has evolved extremely fast in recent years. Even though ‘traditional’ public service TV and radio remain very popular – reaching 59% and 44% of Europeans respectively every week – we want to consolidate the important role public service media has to play in the digital environment. This is very much at the heart of EBU members’ strategies today.
As part of its digital strategy, the EU already made a very important step towards effective net neutrality. Now we need to build on this first important stepping stone with the recent proposals on the audiovisual media services directive, the telecoms review and the copyright proposals.
TDP: What are the challenges for broadcasters in the recent telecoms review?
NF: From our perspective, the Telecoms review will impact the way our programmes are distributed on the various electronic communication networks – Digital Terrestrial Television, satellite, cable and IPTV. There is an opportunity within this review to strengthen the tools Member States have at their disposal to ensure that public service media programmes can be accessed on all key networks and on various devices. For example, ‘must-carry rules’ should be updated to match the fact that there are more means to distribute programmes and more on offer today, in particular interactive and on-demand services.
TDP: The copyright proposal has been criticised by many in Brussels and you are one of the few being quite positive, why is this?
NF: Yes, the proposal for a Regulation on broadcasters’ online content has caused quite an interesting reaction. Having analysed the proposal, we believe the Commission’s plans represent a balanced licensing solution. Effective licensing mechanisms are essential because assembling and distributing programmes implies that public service media organizations navigate through complex negotiations to obtain all the necessary licenses.
The proposal confirms contractual freedom and is in line with territoriality, principles which are at the very heart of the content-funding model. It should however be possible, for example, for Europeans who reside outside their homeland to access programmes from back home when they go online. When broadcasters wish to make a programme available across borders, then there should be adequate licensing tools out there to turn this will into a reality.
TDP: As part of the copyright discussions, broadcasters regularly mention the Satellite and Cable Directive. Where does that fit in?
NF: The Satellite and Cable Directive of 1993 is an interesting model because it has unlocked access to broadcasters’ programmes across borders on satellite and cable networks. It introduced effective licensing mechanisms for satellite transmissions and retransmissions on cable networks, which have shown that territoriality can co-exist with the Internal Market. For example, the Italian public channel RAI 1 is available in 20 EU Member States via cable with the exception of certain premium content, and those of us living here in Brussels can watch Sherlock on the BBC on Belgian cable without any problem. Around 1500 free-to-air satellite channels without encryption are available across Europe.
TDP: How are public broadcasters impacted by the proposals to update the AVMS Directive published earlier this year? From your point of you, how could the proposal be improved?
NF: The AVMS Directive covers subjects which are of major importance for public service media: informed citizenship, the protection of minors from harmful content and the promotion of European and domestic programmes to name but a few. They represent fundamental objectives for European audiovisual media policies. But what has changed is how these objectives are met in the digital environment.
The audiovisual media services Directive should be updated to ensure that valuable content for society is prominently displayed and easily accessed where citizens go to get audiovisual programmes in today’s digital environment. We want our contribution to society to be effective in this rapidly-evolving audiovisual landscape: we offer impartial and diverse information, a gateway to European content – over 80% of our EBU members’ airtime – and safe, informative spaces for users, especially minors.
Facilitating access to our members’ programmes is all the more important because powerful and VOD and OTT providers’ impact on the individual viewers’ choice and consumption is growing steadily. The Audiovisual media services Directive needs to give Member States the possibility to address access and appropriate prominence of public service media programmes.
The role of video-sharing platforms and social media also needs to be examined. Obviously, you cannot regulate them like audiovisual media service providers who exercise editorial responsibility. But there needs to be a basic set of rules to protect minors and tackle hate speech because of the importance of these platforms in the digital environment, in particular for younger audiences.
Picture credits: Pierre Metivier
The Digital Post spoke with Paul Chong, Director of Watson group at IBM, on the future of the popular supercomputer combining AI and sophisticated analytical software.
The Digital Post: What is the story behind IBM Watson?
Paul Chong: It all came about by chance in 2006, when a couple of guys were sitting in a pub watching a quiz show and they came up with the idea of taking on the champions of this show. Then, they started to look at the challenges.
At that point, we had a lot of experience and background in analyzing natural language programming and machine learning, so this opportunity came at the right time for us as well.
Eventually, we took it to the quiz show in 2011 and we were successful. By then we have had one million dollars and had already started to think about where we could apply the technology into different industries in a very transformational way, taking what is a lot of unstructured data and giving it some sense.
TDP: Apart from the health care sector, what are the other industries where IBM Watson is working on at the moment?
PC: We are present in 17 different industries right now, including financial services, where we’ve been typically involved with retail and utility companies.
Now we are trying to create a platform services for Watson AI machine, allowing a larger audience made up of users, developers, and startup entrepreneurs to use it for business purposes. The idea is to decompose the technology, provide it as a set of APIs, very easy to use, so that everyone can use it. What we’re trying to do is creating a really intuitive platform.
TDP: Where do you see Watson in five or even 10 years’ time?
PC: I think we’re going to see an evolution of those services, particularly in terms of numbers and quality of the services provided. For example, one of the big challenges with AI is the amount of time of supervised learning that you need to do. Supervised learning means that there is an intervention by humans to train the data and the models.
What you’ll start to see is a great improvement, namely less data will have to feed the system to teach it, and there will be less intervention from human beings. I also think services will become more intuitive to use so that businesses can take advantage of them by understanding the type of outcomes they want.
TDP: AI technologies, and computing technologies in general, are raising concerns about the impact they may have on employment.
PC: You have to look back in history in order to know what’s going to come in the future. Take the industrial revolutions for example. On various levels, we’ve always seen a situation where, as human beings, we’re very adaptable, and we start to find out what our new roles are going to be, how we are going to exist, and what work will look like in the future. We have always witnessed that humans eventually find another level to operate on.
We are now going through a cognitive age, which will require a great deal of adaptability. Governments will soon start thinking about it for the next generation. What type of training and education we are going to imagine for them? We should avoid training them to be working on machinery or doing certain mandate roles, such as accountancy, which, among others, will be automated within the next twenty years.
We have to start questioning ourselves and taking steps now. Regulators, governments and educators have to start thinking about what types of jobs are going to exist in the future, while companies and countries should focus on their competitive technology.
The Digital Post talked to Krzysztof Szubert, Plenipotentiary of Minister for International Affairs and Strategic Advisor to the Minister, about Poland’s ambitious plans to boost digital infrastructures and services.
The Digital Post: What are the main priorities of Digital Poland?
Krzysztof Szubert: Poland aspires to the group of leading EU countries, thus we need to take an active political position with regard to digital transformation of the state. We need to support the strategy for developing the information society combined with efficient coordination of this process. Having that in mind, we have decided with Minister Anna Strezynska, to develop up to 20-pages long document “Strategic Action Priorities of the Minister of Digital Affairs”. It is based on 5 pillars and 18 actions.
The five fundamental principles are: 1) the state should serve the citizen – thanks to digital technology the state should connect dispersed institutions and change complex procedures into consistent and simple services; 2) access to the public network and services must be safe for our data and all types of transactions conducted in the network; 3) in order to pursue e-administration targets, but above all, to achieve social and economic goals, it is necessary to accelerate the development of modern telecommunications infrastructure; 4) development of the desired innovative economy needs permanent and easy access to data gathered by public services and we need to constantly – regardless of age – improve our digital competences to effectively benefit from digitization and compete on the global market.
We are very much aware that this is not cherry-picking as for those principles to bear fruit it is necessary to observe them all together while developing any strategic public service actions. We have put together as many as 18 of them and their wide variety ranges from having one gate to services, and across adopting standards of electronic circulation of documents down to being more effective in the EU or other international institutions so that we have a stronger say on the law that is shaped up there.
TDP: How these plans could make the difference?
KS: First of all, we do have the strategy in place to follow. Over the last many years it has been the chaotic way of development and making available of electronic public services that have limited access to them to very narrow groups of recipients with their interoperability being far from ideal.
Each Polish citizen, organization and entrepreneur should be able to settle any official matter electronically while contacting any level of public administration. When we deliver that, “we will win”. What makes this strategy stand out from any previous attempts is that we really want not only the whole government participating but also wide support from all other stakeholders. The draft priorities had been available for public comment and we received huge input that finally became part of what we are implementing now.
TDP: What are the highest challenges Poland is facing in terms of digital?
KS: Lack of coordination as well as deficit of efficient project management of Polish administration directly affect the quality of development of e-administration which is all about providing facilitations for citizens and entrepreneurs. It is necessary to urgently improve methods of implementation of innovative projects and create the main center coordinating their management. To support that, we think that heading towards the national CIO model seems to be the right step. Efficiency of public administration systems is one of the conditions for the stability of the state – we have to convince our citizen and business to relay on them and to use them.
TDP: Do the Digital Single Market meet the expectations of Polish government? What are in your opinion the most important aspects of the strategy?
KS: Digitization is, in fact, the transformation of the state, rather than merely buying systems and equipment. By using modern technologies, the state can become a service provider. It is to develop faster, become more friendly and support the needs of citizens, entrepreneurs, organizations and local governments.
The DSM strategy in general is helping address those needs in many areas, but we have to be sure that it fits well into our specific market – that there is no place for one-size-fits-all. Digital Single Market requires efforts towards removing the real problems to the development of e-commerce within the EU. The main challenges the smart DSM will have to face are threefold: making sure the undertaken efforts put first the citizen, the consumer and the Internet user while adding as less as possible to regulatory burden for business with having single market benefits spread fairly equally among Member States.
TDP: Will Brexit affect European digital policies?
KS: As you may know, a broader vision of the digital single market (incl. digital policy) in the EU – supported by the Polish Government – is set out in works of the group of like-minded EU Member States which has recently been very active in making a strong consolidated voice heard in Brussels. There are 14 Member States including UK & Poland in it. We will continue to keep the same vision of building the solid foundation of the digital economy and moving the single market to the digital age without imposing new burdens on businesses.
The UK has so far been an important part of that message, and I hope it will continue to be such and that we can even convince other countries to “join the club”. Poland is now leading the V4 (the Visegrad Group) and we will stick to that vision regardless of the UK being in or out of the European Union, as long as digital single market and digital policies are bringing benefits both to the citizens and to the business sector. Therefore, one of the priorities of the Minister of Digital Affairs will be pursuing active and determined policy to reinforce our participation in developing the EU and international solutions and securing Poland’s social and economic benefits.
Picture credits: ArchiDju
The eHealth sector within the digital single market is expected to be worth 20 billion and tens of thousands of jobs, explains Greek MEP Eva Kaili.
The Digital Post: What the EU is currently doing to speed up the development and spread of eHealth services?
Eva Kaili: Over the last years we have seen significant progress. There are many initiative at EU and national level, the most important of which is the EU eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020. The Digital Single Market also represents a huge step forward. Moreover, the EU is funding research and innovative initiatives in the field as well as helping SMEs operating in this sector.
TDP: What are the main challenges for the further development of the ehealth technologies in Europe?
EK: Different languages, different mentalities, different legislation, different taxation, different education systems: these are all big challenges that we have to face, because it is clear that the development of the sector depends on more coordination among the EU member states. For instance, we still have different accreditation and validation systems in each country. In addition, the digital divide that still runs between the EU states makes things more difficult. The EU action plan on eHealth addresses comprehensively these issues aiming at building a union in the field of eHealth by 2020. I think we are almost halfway. The opportunity is huge: the eHealth sector in the digital single market is expected to be worth 20 billion and tens of thousands of jobs.
TDP: What further actions or policies should be taken at EU and national level?
EK: Overall, we need to go for smarter and flexible strategies which can be adapted to the peculiarities of very different countries. We cannot expect all member states to follow the same path at the same speed. I also think more has to be done on active aging as well as digital accessibility and digital literature. All these issues are fundamental to expand the reach and the adoption of eHealth tools among the population.
TDP: Do you think the Digital Single Market strategy will deliver?
EK: Yes, I think it can. We can already see the benefits of the efforts made in the last years towards a single digital market. Roaming fees, for instance, are about to disappear. Let me take another example in the field of eHealth. Thanks to eprescription you can have your medication in each country you go, just using your mobile phone.
This is part of a series of interviews held during the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger Juhan Lepassaar and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Chuck Patch
Even if the European Union recently adopted an updated and comprehensive regulation on data protection, the issue of privacy will likely continue to produce political controversies and fuel (legal) disputes in Brussels as well as in many countries of the old continent.
What’s interesting is that the customary European mess surrounding data protection rules appears to be ‘infecting’ the U.S. At least to a certain extent. By reclassifying broadband ISPs as common carriers, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has also grabbed legitimate powers to regulate how they handle privacy.
And that’s exactly what it did publishing in March a proposal which many believe to be way too prescriptive for ISPs, not least because it will place on them several obligations that other Internet companies do not have to comply with. The problem is that up to now the Federal Trade Commission was the only ‘privacy cop’ presiding over the compliance of data protection rules on the Internet. Now that the FCC have weighed in it’s less clear what will be the role of the two agencies.
On paper the FCC will start policing the ISPs under its new (and more stringent) rules, whereas the FTC will continue to enforce consumers protection rules on the commercial Internet. We will then see two different set of rules applying to ISPs on the one hand and to the rest of Internet companies on the other.
The odd thing here is that while Europe is putting much effort in placing all the players under the same regulatory umbrella (for instance with the new General Data Protection Regulation), the U.S. are seemingly walking the opposite direction. Even Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor, wrote in a recent opinion: “we also recommend clarification of the respective roles of the FCC and the FTC over broadband internet service providers.”
On the sidelines of the European Business Summit The Digital Post met Ann Cairns, MasterCard’s President of International Markets, to discuss how digital technologies are making a difference in fighting the exclusion from financial services.
The Digital Post: What are the main activities or initiatives on financial inclusion which MasterCard has launched?
Ann Cairns: At MasterCard, we are committed to reaching people previously excluded from financial services and as part of this we have pledged to reach 500 million new consumers worldwide by 2020.
This means providing solutions that allow them to participate in the formal financial system. We have made good progress. And we fundamentally believe that technology, fintech and electronic payments are powerful tools to ensure we achieve that goal.
We have many initiatives worldwide, including several in emerging economies. For example, we have a partnership with the Social Security Agency in South Africa to issue 10 million biometric enabled social security Debit MasterCard cards.
The key feature of these cards is that the biometric functionality enables the Social Security Agency to ensure only qualifying grant recipients collect the grants.
A landmark public-private collaboration with the Egyptian government we announced last year aims at financially including 54 million citizens.
We worked with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Ministry of Finance and the Egyptian Banking Corporation to roll out a digital ID programme that link citizens’ national ID to the existing national mobile money platform.
Financial exclusion is not just an issue in countries with emerging economies, it is a big challenge for many Europeans as well. There are many parts in Europe where vast parts of the population simply have no access or do not use formal financial services.
MasterCard commissioned a 10 -market online survey to understand European consumers’ perceptions of financial and digital inclusion, through the lens of gender inclusion.
The results of the survey showed that while almost half of consumers in Europe feel that there is a somewhat high or high level of financial inclusion in their country, less than one in four (22%) agree that Europe is the most financially and digitally (24%) inclusive region in the world.
MasterCard has partnered with many public authorities to launch systems to encourage financial inclusion. For example, we helped the London Borough of Brent to develop a new prepaid card programme for social benefits. The scheme ensures the money is being used by the right people and provides cost savings to the Council and consumers.
TDP: How can we leverage digital technology for financial inclusion?
AC: We see the future moving in the direction of the Internet of Things. As we made progress with financial inclusion we started to see that digital identity was actually something that was being used by governments around the world to roll out and register people, and also to include them in society. This is how we started to see inclusion as much broader than just financial inclusion and how it encompasses digital and gender.
Innovation is a key element for moving to a digitally inclusive society: MasterCard fully supports innovation and entering of new payment methods. The key to achieving inclusion lies in digital payment programmes. In order to deliver on consumers’ and merchants’ expectations for ever better ways of connecting the two MasterCard is continuously looking into new technologies and opportunities that can make that happen.
Public authorities also have a huge role to play. By switching their payments, be it social disbursements, salary payments or any other kind of payments onto electronic platforms, they can not only gain efficiencies for themselves but also make a significant contribution to bringing people into the financial mainstream.
Mobile payment platforms have also served as an opportunity to incorporate more individuals into the formal, existing financial system. While many people still do not have access to a bank account, more than 1 in 3 people in the world (2.6 billion) will be using smartphones within the next two years. And mobile phone and tablet users will be making almost 200 billion transactions annually by 2019.
For example, earlier this year MasterCard ‘s HomeSend venture expanded its agreement with the Vodafone Group for M-Pesa – the mobile phone service which allows people with no bank account to send and receive money, top up their phone and enjoy other services all through their mobile phones. Globally, M-Pesa now reaches 25.3 million users (including users in Europe, for example in Romania and Albania).
TDP: MasterCard has just published a new study on financial inclusion. What are its main findings?
AC: MasterCard commissioned a 10 -market online survey to understand European consumers’ perceptions of financial and digital inclusion, through the lens of gender inclusion.
The results of the survey showed that while almost half of consumers in Europe feel that there is a somewhat high or high level of financial inclusion in their country, less than one in four (22%) agree that Europe is the most financially and digitally (24%) inclusive region in the world.
Other key findings include:
– Fewer than half of Europeans (49%) believe there is a high level of financial inclusion in their country.
– The vast majority of Europeans (79%) believe men have a higher degree of financial and digital inclusion than women.
– 88% of respondents stated equal opportunities for Europeans in terms of access to financial and digital products, irrespective of gender, are vital for an open and inclusive society, but only 66% agree they have equal access themselves.
The results demonstrated that, in general, digital and financial inclusion were experiencing a very similar perception issue. So as the EU looks to build a true digital single market in Europe in which people can interact and transact cross-border as seamlessly as in their own country, we need to focus on tearing down the real barriers and ensure that everyone can reap the benefits of a more inclusive world. The Digital Single Market needs to be built with the consumer or end-user in mind.
TDP: Digital inclusion is still an issue also in several EU countries. Do you see governments committing enough to fixing the problem?
AC: What we see is that the perception of digital inclusion is comparable to inclusive growth. We believe that digital exclusion usually triggers or is triggered by other kinds of exclusion, such as financial or gender exclusion. The assumption that financial exclusion and in turn digital exclusion is a problem solely in developing economies alone could not be further from the truth. We found that roughly 90 million people in Western Europe are still underserved.
If we look at Europe – the European Commission has done some great work on financial inclusion in recent years. The EU Payments Account Directive was adopted in 2014 and provides for the right for all EU citizens to open a payment account that allows them to perform essential operations, such as receiving their salary, pensions and allowances or payment of utility bills etc.
With the Digital Single Market Strategy, the Commission is promoting technology and digital throughout the EU. As I referred to when speaking at the European Business Summit earlier this month, what is important is that inclusiveness is embedded into all digital policy initiatives. We need to ensure that the Digital Single Market is built with the citizen’s needs in mind so that it adds value to him or her.
From MasterCard’s experience, the increased engagement of government helps drive greater expansion of financial inclusion. For example, in the UK, we are working with many local authorities who are now issuing welfare payments through pre-paid cards.
Some of them have gone entirely cashless and processing all disbursements (e.g. welfare payments, child benefit, asylum seekers, etc.) electronically. Through these initiatives, citizens now have quicker and more secure access to their benefits. Meanwhile, we are seeing how the authorities themselves are enjoying significant savings thanks to increased efficiencies.
TDP: How can the private sector help public institutions or cooperate with them on expanding digital literacy as well as digital skills?
AC: The private sector is at the forefront of driving financial inclusion. But obviously we cannot do this alone: Public authorities have a crucial role to play. The Commission has recently consulted on various initiatives and published some very interesting proposals in areas such as e-government for example.
We welcome the Commission’s emphasis on public private cooperation as this is an area where MasterCard is very active and where we partner frequently with public institutions. The best example is the work around social disbursements onto prepaid cards.
Although the UK is one of the more advanced markets when it comes to promoting electronic payments for government expenditure, other countries are also making good progress.
In Italy, for example, we work with the national postal service to provide a simpler and more transparent tax collection system. We rolled-out new electronic payment terminals to help millions of Italians pay their taxes in the post office in a fast and safe way. In general, the benefits of going more digital are obvious.
((1] Juniper Research – Mobile commerce transactions to approach 200bn by 2019: http://www.juniperresearch.com/press/press-releases/mobile-commerce-transactions-to-approach-200bn-by
 New Financial Inclusion Study Spotlights Europe’s Financially Excluded, Press release available: http://newsroom.mastercard.com/press-releases/new-financial-inclusion-study-spotlights-europes-financially-excluded/
 For more information on our e-government activities: http://newsroom.mastercard.com/eu/photos/mastercard-government-services-and-solutions/
Picture Credits: John Ragai
Europe can still be a rather bumpy landscape for innovators, although innovators should learn to market better their achievements, argues Robert Madelin, Senior Adviser for innovation within the European Commission and former Director General at DG Connect.
The Digital Post: What are the major challenges facing the DSM strategy?
Robert Madelin: The Strategy itself identifies several challenges under its 16 actions. It’s also clear that some of the changes brought in by the Strategy will imply winners and losers. The main political challenge is whether we are ready to accept this because we care enough about improving our society.
RM: We have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a period where everything is changing and evolving so fast that it is difficult to grasp what’s next. Under these circumstances, the successful strategies should go to the basics. The Digital Single Market strategy is precisely future-proof in this sense, since nobody knows what the future is. Delivering infrastructure, capacity, industrial transformations, skills awareness, cyber security while investing enough in research into Quantum, Big Data and 5G: This is a good portfolio effort. But it’s impossible to avoid taking risks in a period of big change. The Digital Single Market Strategy take such risks and it is likely that some of its actions will fail.
TDP: On 1st September 2015 you were appointed senior adviser for innovation within the European Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker tasked you with drafting a policy review on innovation in Europe. What can you tell about this report?
RM: I think the missing piece is often the recognition that research is a component of European innovation and competitiveness. Let me put this in figures: less than one euro in five spent by European companies on innovation is poured into research. Moreover, in some areas we don’t have a positive conversation about innovation. At European level we don’t have a conversation at all. What we have, instead, is little pockets of reaction to disruptive innovation.
This resistance to innovation may be legitimate or not, but it is difficult to act on it if we don’t have a proper debate. That’s why Europe can still be a rather bumpy landscape for innovators and that’s the problem we have to fix. The report should be released by the end of June.
TDP: So are you saying that Europe is not a positive environment for innovators?
RM: Let’s talk first about the environment in the world. In 2015 the communications firm Edelman carried out an extensive survey on innovation by interviewing tens of thousands people in a hundred countries.
What came out is that two out of three respondents understand that innovation is good for growth and jobs, but only one out of three think that innovation is doing something good for the planet as well as for their communities and families.
I believe this proves that innovators are marketing their intentions and achievements very poorly and that’s not true only in Europe. The same survey tells us that Europeans want innovation to primarily look at issues such as health, family, community, environment. The two things fit together.
Everybody wants innovations, and wants innovation to benefit the areas they care about. Therefore, the vision underlying the European approach to innovation is right: ‘responsible innovation’ is a key concept within our research programme Horizon 2020. That’s the theory. As far as the execution is concerned, we are beginning to learn.
Coming to your question, is the atmosphere positive for innovators? Not yet. Can it get better? Yes. Do we understand how to? I think so. Are we working on it? Yes.
TDP: Let’s switch to the telecom sector. What do you think should be the priorities of the upcoming review of the telecom framework?
RM: The reason to have a telecoms framework is systemic empty competitive mechanisms in the market. Now we have to revisit how far that’s a problem. We’ve already narrowed enormously the number of markets to which the regime applies.
The second question to ask is to what extent we need a framework. We still do because telecoms it’s a network industry. But how do we tune the framework to ensure the best possible supply of infrastructure? That’s a big problem that we haven’t fixed yet.
Of course, everybody has different views on the best answer to this. My personal view, having been for five years Director General of DG CONNECT at the European Commission, is that the theory of the ladder of investment doesn’t reach to fiber to the home.
If it doesn’t work, we need to apply another theory: Which means we might need to either invest more public money or structure differently the market in order to generate very high speed connectivity investment.
This is part of a series of interviews held during the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger Juhan Lepassaar and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Dennis Skley
The way the telecoms industry is represented in Europe is still too weak and fragmented, says Proximus CEO Dominique Leroy in a conversation with The Digital Post on the sidelines of the iMinds annual conference. Her main suggestion for the revision of the telecom framework: more regulatory focus on services than technology.
The Digital Post: Let’s start from Internet of Things. Proximus is the first operator in Belgium, and one of the first in Europe, that launched a network for Internet of Things. What is it about?
Dominique Leroy: Historically, telecoms were always about connecting people. More and more in the future, they will also play a key role in connecting things. Against this background, what we did is not so much building a simple network, but setting up a whole end-to-end ecosystem to enable the Internet of Things. We are providing enterprises, consumers as well as developers an end-to-end system equipped with sensors and based on LoRa networks, a long-range and low-power type of networks that connects sensors without SIM cards.
The purpose is to get small packets of data from the sensors through the LoRa networks and store them in our data centers on a platform called MyThings, where we already provide data analytics. The idea is then to open the platform to developers so that they can develop new applications. There are certain domains where we would like to go all the way up to creating applications, mainly in the mobility field, where we think that we can really bring an added value through Internet of Things.
So as you see, the Internet of Things opens up a whole new ecosystem. It is more than a utility provided by telcos. We want to offer solutions, partnerships, we are opening up to other players and therefore we are creating innovation. We are also one of the first companies in the sector moving in this direction.
DL: That’s probably where telco operators have a real added value considering their knowhow: We already provide end-to-end security over our infrastructures, from your phone to the applications you use, all the way to our datacentres. This expertise is very important for tomorrow’s connectivity in cars, home automation and health. LoRa networks come already with a triple encryption key. They secure the sensor identification, the payload and the network. In general, when it comes to using certification, identification and authorization technologies I believe that is where we provide a lot of added value.
TDP: How do you see telecoms operators capitalizing on the Internet of Things in, say, five years from now?
DL: Data consumption today is driven mainly by millions of people connecting with each other. Data consumption will increase dramatically in the coming years as billions of connected devices go on-line. This new reality will create huge volumes of data traffic. IoT will thus become an important piece of the telcos ecosystems, leading to more investment in infrastructures, stimulating more innovation, value, and opportunities for new revenue streams and profit.
TDP: The European commission is working on new proposals to implement greater coordination at European level of radio-spectrum policies. Unfortunately, in the past similar legislative moves were met with strong scepticism from member states. Why this time should be different?
DL: I don’t think member states want to give to Europe their powers on spectrum policy. But they very much understand that if they want to develop a coherent European digital market, there needs to be some coordination. The repurposing of 700 MHz for Wireless Broadband Services should be done within a certain timeframe all over Europe, otherwise it wouldn’t work. If tomorrow we need much higher frequency bandwidth, for instance to be able to develop 5G and self-driving cars, some sort of European coordination is essential to get there.
Moreover, a more consistent policy all over Europe should be applied to the length of licenses. These actions are all feasible, and I think member states will in a way or another agree that’s the right path. However, what they won’t allow is that the EU decide on the prices for the spectrum. In any case, I think that we have an opportunity to have more coordination in terms of timing of the auctions and duration of spectrum licenses.
TDP: What should be the main priorities of the forthcoming proposal on the revision of the EU telecoms framework?
DL: We definitely need less regulation to be able to catch up with more competitive markets. In the last 20 years, Europe has been very effective in overseeing the liberalization of the industry securing a high level of competition. However, today if you look at the big players in the industry, either they come from America, or more and more from Asia. Regulation is certainly one of the root causes of not having strong European digital players.
So, let’s make sure that we deregulate as much as possible, and let competition drive investments and spur innovation. Levelling the playing field is also another important aspect. It is not acceptable anymore that telcos are subjected to obligations on, say, privacy, data usage, or interoperability that are not applying to players operating the same services. The problem today is that regulation is focusing too much on technology and not on services, which produce lot of inconsistencies between cable, telecom, OTT operators providing the same services. So my recipe could be summarized in three elements: less regulation, more level playing field, more regulatory focus on services than technology.
TDP: A word on the increasingly tough stance of Margrethe Vestager on Mergers & Acquisitions?
DL: I think we as an industry need to articulate better what we want, what are the risks of preventing telcos from growing in scale, and what is acceptable and what not. We are not very well-structured and every too often we shy away from speaking with one voice. That also explains why it is easier for regulators to take their own direction: we do not make enough efforts to be listened. We can blame regulators or politicians but I think we should also look at ourselves and see how we can be more united to defend our industry. The way we are represented in Europe is still too weak and fragmented.
Picture credits: Matt Brajlih
The Digital Single Market strategy is a step in the right direction but the Commission must speed up its implementation, says Brian Ager, secretary-general of the European Roundtable of Industrialists.
The Digital Post: What is your general opinion about the Digital Single Market Strategy?
Brian Ager: We thought that it was an important first step to get everybody behind a common approach, and I believe it was a good move. I think it’s important to get an orientation, to get it out there and see what the reactions are.
TDP: Do you think this strategy is enough business-friendly? Can it provide a sufficient conducive investment climate that will help Europe catch up with other markets in the digital sector?
BA: Only time will tell. To be fair, a few legislative proposals have been already presented. But for the rest, the Strategy is only a piece of paper that in itself is worthless: it’s what flows from that that will matter. It is now important that the Strategy is translated into a series of policy measures that are the right ones. Are they going to be implemented effectively? And are they going to be implemented in a coherent way across the whole of the Union? If you can tick those boxes, then you’re likely to see investment flow. But the Strategy in itself it doesn’t. Well, it is better to say that it will not automatically lead to investment.
TDP: Do you think that the Strategy may lead to over-regulation?
BA: I think it’s a possibility. But this must not happen, if we’re serious about digital economy, because if it does, then you strangle the digital potential of the whole continent. Another matter of concern is that the implementation is too slow.
TDP: A number of observers from outside Europe pointed out that Europe is using a punitive approach towards US internet success stories or internet companies. Some are even talking about “digital protectionism”.
BA: The Internet economy is global by definition: if you want to seize its opportunities you need to take a global approach for a global market. I can’t see how Europe could be protectionist, it wouldn’t work anyway.
TDP: What do you think of the European Commission’s plan on Industry 4.0?
BA: Our first reaction is that overall the plan is a good step in the right direction. But I can’t help but notice that it was presented almost one year since the digital single market strategy was unveiled. We need to speed up the entire process.
TDP: Many fear that Industry 4.0 will be a huge job killer.
BA: I don’t think it’s so much doom and gloom. We feel clearly it will lead to some job losses, but it should also lead to the creation of other jobs, because you’re switching the economy from one type of activity to another. To be sure, the development of Industry 4.0 will lead to a switch from more low-skilled jobs to more high-skilled jobs. This change brings us to another crucial point, that is the responsiveness of the education systems. An extra effort is needed to drive our students towards math, technology and science-related studies, including math, physics, engineering and computer science. Today the industry complains that it’s missing half a million ICT engineers, software engineers, even mainstream engineering. The problem can be addressed only if we start working from the basic education. As far as the exiting work employment is concerned, we need to think very hard about vocational training, lifelong learning, re-skilling, because things are going to come along faster and faster.
This is part of a series of interviews held during the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger Juhan Lepassaar and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Matt
As the regulation on cross-border portability goes through the European Parliament, MEP Emma McClarkin explains why it is important that the new legislation strike a balance between the needs of market, consumers and the creative industry.
How the European Parliament is expected to approach the legislation on cross-border portability?
What are the main elements to shape a balanced legislation?
What are the positions to emerge in the JURI and IMCO committee of the European Parliament?
How the proposal should define the scope of cross-border utilisation?
What is your opinion on the wider debate over the reform of the EU copyright framework?
The Digital Post spoke to Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Vice-
President Ansip, about the latest progress of the Digital Single Market strategy.
The Digital Post: How is the implementation of the Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy progressing?
Juhan Lepassaar: So far, we have adopted two key proposals on the harmonisation of digital contracts rules and on portability of digital content. In addition, in February the Commission presented legislation intended for greater coordination in the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services. Last month, we also published a package on Industry 4.0 and e-government, containing a number of non-legislative actions that will help create the right environment to boost the digitalisation of the European industry.
During the month of May, we are going to unveil our e-commerce package, which will include actions to tackle unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of online discrimination practices. We will also present a proposal for the review of the audiovisual media services directive and a communication on the role of online platforms. Before the summer break, we plan to move forward with the public-private partnership on cyber security.
Then, the next big things are the review of the European telecoms framework in September or early October and the next steps of the modernisation of EU copyright rules. Finally, in autumn we will act on the free flow of data, we will table proposals on VAT for digital products and on corporate enforcement rules.
TDP: According to a number of observers some proposals would actually mean more regulation on tech industry at the expense of their capability to innovate and invest. Are these fears justified?
JL: We believe that these fears are unjustified. We do not want to undermine the way the digital economy operates. Our proposals are balanced: they allow enough flexibility without adding more regulatory burdens. Take the example of digital platforms. The commission has concluded that it wouldn’t be judicious to have a horizontal regulation on platforms because they are way too diversified. Hence, we are opting for a problem-driven approach.
That is, once a problem is identified and clearly defined, we might act through regulation or opting for self-regulation initiatives. We’ve already applied this approach on the issue of hate speech on digital platforms. That doesn’t mean that existing rules on certain areas like platform content, transparency or the issue of the so-called value gap will not be further clarified within the DSM initiatives.
We aim to simplify the environment for tech industry in Europe. This is what we do by harmonising rules in different areas. For example, one clear set of rules for consumer protection in the EU, rather than a patchwork of 28 different national regimes, makes it easier for businesses to grow across borders. In the end, this is actually about less rules and better regulation.
TDP:What are the key elements or the strategy to fix the EU-US digital divide?
JL: First, reducing the regulatory fragmentation. That is the key issue that differentiates the European market from the US. Second: access to finance for our tech industry. We have set out an agenda, which will reduce fragmentation and bring down the barriers for businesses opening to them a market of 500 millions customers.
TDP:Businesses in the United Kingdom and other countries are concerned about the cross-border tax system. How the Commission intends to modernise the VAT for digital products?
JL: There is a difference if a business has to deal with 28 taxation authorities or only one. What we want to ensure is that, especially small and medium size businesses when they do business across the borders will only deal with their own tax authority and the rest is taken care of by tax authorities between member states. The commission in its digital single market strategy has already highlighted the fact that in the area of e-commerce we need a taxation threshold to protect the smallest businesses. We will act upon this with our proposals that are forthcoming in December.
TDP: The upcoming revision of EU telecoms framework will revolve around the usual dilemma, more deregulation versus more competition. How do you strike that balance?
JL: That’s a good question. Telecoms operators are right when they say they face regulatory burdens that new players do not. It is our job to determine whether we can reduce the regulatory burden to all and whether there are still any areas where we need to make sure that all the players that provide same services also abide by the same rules. I think the answer is a bit of both approaches.
TDP: What are the plans of the commission with respect to industry 4.0?
JL: The plan that the Commission published last month includes issues like standardisation and interoperability as well as measures to boost Cloud Computing and Big Data technologies in Europe. The proposal is also designed to help digital public services to inter-connect with each other across borders so that businesses, if they want to do business across the borders, can do it easily without having to submit the same information to different public authorities.
The plan also links up to the forthcoming initiatives on the free flow of data. It is also very important that the revision of the telecoms framework touch upon the issue of spectrum, which is a commodity increasingly needed by the industry for the internet of things or self-driving cars for example. All in all, Industry 4.0 relates to all DSM initiatives.
This is the first of a series of interviews held during the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Commissioner for Digital Economy Günther Oettinger keynoted the “Digital Single Market: Bridging the gap” event organized on May 3rd by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. Here are 4 highlights from his speech you need to be aware of.
Still lagging behind…
Europe has a number of competences and success stories in the tech sector, but it is still lagging far behind. Take creative online platforms, applications, social networks, new services: Almost nothing of these comes from Europe. The continent is not really in a good shape. We have to reverse this situation.
Digital Single Market now
Since decades we have created a common European market in a wide spectrum of sectors, giving a clear advantage to our industries in the context of the biggest market in world. There is no argument whatsoever against enlarging the benefits of the common market to the digital sector. Such benefits are expected to be much bigger if one looks to the markets of Europe’s associated partners such as Ukraine or Turkey. Fixing the regulatory fragmentation is the key issue: we do not need 28 national silos. In this respect, the general data protection regulation adopted a few months ago is the example to be followed.
A gigabyte society
The Digital Single Market cannot come reality without adequate infrastructures. Europe must aim for a gigabyte society if it does not want to fail. In order to make the most of booming sectors such as development of Internet of Things, machine-to-machine, or e–health, Europe cannot keep leveraging on 30 Mbps or 100 Mbps forever. It should start thinking of networks capable of reaching speeds of 500mbps or higher.
Europe is still grappling with two types of digital divide. The first concerns the connectivity gap between rural and metropolitan areas, which in turn requires more comprehensive investment strategies in digital infrastructures. The second lies between European citizens with digital skills and those who lack technological education. Member states should give more priority to the digital education of their citizens: the European Commission will step up its efforts to help them set up related policies on digital skills.
Beside Mr Oettinger, the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" featured keynote speeches from Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Andrus Ansip, and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Sergiu Bacioiu
If governments resort to brokering individual tax deals, such as the recent UK’s tax deal with Google, we end up with a race to the bottom that ultimately would be damaging our digital economy, says Lib-Dem MEP Catherine Bearder. Brexit? Complete economic lunacy.
What is the added value to the Digital Single Market that the UK might bring if it stays in the EU?
The UK is a world leader in e-commerce, so making it easier for businesses to sell goods and services online across the single market will bring massive benefits to our economy and to British consumers. Leaving the EU now just as we are on the cusp of this digital revolution in Europe would be complete economic lunacy.
What is your opinion about the recent UK’s tax deal with Google?
The UK Chancellor could and should have got a better deal for the UK taxpayer. It is not acceptable that there is one rule for large multinational companies and another for the small businesses paying their taxes and struggling to get by.
Companies like Google make an important contribution to jobs and the economy, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to get away with failing to pay their fair share in tax.
Broadly speaking, what sort of measures should the EU undertake to ensure that multinationals such as Google pay a fair share of tax in each country in which they operate?
The recent EU agreement to introduce greater transparency over tax deals is an important step forward. But what the history of tax deals in Europe shows us that we need a more coordinated approach to ensure accompanies pay their fair share.
If governments resort to brokering individual tax deals, we end up with a race to the bottom. The most important underlying principle should be that tax is paid where the actual economic activity takes place.
This can be a real challenge in the digital sector, but it is one we must overcome if we are to create a level-playing field and a thriving and fair economy.
Picture credits: James Petts
Joe Smithies, spokesperson for the UK telecoms regulator, defends the recent reform of Openreach, illustrates UK priorities for the review of the EU telecoms framework, suggests caution on bringing in more harmonisation in radio-spectrum policies.
The Digital Post: BT competitors lamented that in its long awaited Strategic Review of Digital Communications, Ofcom did not go far enough in regulating Openreach. How do you respond to this criticism?
Joe Smithies: We made a clear decision to reform Openreach’s governance and strengthen its independence from BT. We want Openreach to a more independent say on its budgets, investment and strategy. We also want Openreach to consult with all its customers, not just BT, about how it develops and invests in its network.
These decisions are important not only for BT, but for the wider industry. Now we are working on the best way to bring that about, and we will set out detailed plans later this year.
The Digital Post: How does the review ensure that Openreach improves its record in repairs and invests more in infrastructures, i.e. two of the main criticisms it has been collecting over the years?
JS: Currently BT Openreach is obliged to deliver a range of minimum standards. The majority of people encountering a fault must see it repaired within two working days, and the vast majority of those requiring a new line must receive an appointment within 12 working days.
We plan to set out detailed proposals about more demanding minimum standards for Openreach in the autumn.
On investment, we want Openreach to consult with all its customers, not just BT, about how it invests in the network. But more widely, we will encourage investment from other operators by requiring BT to open up its physical network, allowing rivals to lay their own fibre connections. That can create more rivals networks to Openreach, and in turn incentivise BT to invest.
The Digital Post: What should be the main priorities to be addressed under the upcoming review of the EU Telecom Framework?
JS: Concerns have been raised that the framework may not be sufficiently flexible to allow for the regulation of markets where there is a limited or shrinking number of players – in other words, an emerging ‘oligopoly’.
The framework allows regulators to take action to address damaging market features that could harm consumers, before that harm materialises. So it offers greater flexibility than, for example, remedies imposed during a merger.
But we feel the framework sets too high a bar for regulating cases where no one company has market power, but the market is still highly concentrated. To address any concerns, the framework requires regulators to show that the market structure is likely to result in a degree of coordination between operators. This may require demonstrating ‘tacit collusion’, which by definition is hard to prove.
BEREC, the European body of telecoms regulators, raised this issue in detail last year. We’re pleased that the European Commission is also considering the issue as part of the framework review. We hope to see changes that mean regulators have the full range of tools to respond to a changing market.
Any new powers would need to be applied proportionately, and with care. Checks and balances should be built into the system to ensure that happens. But with a change in the framework we could do more to encourage new operators into the market, and keep prices low.
The Digital Post: The framework review will also put forward proposals to promote better coordination in spectrum at EU level. What is your view?
JS: Spectrum is a finite resource, so coordination is important for using it effectively. Generally speaking, any form of harmonisation should be justifiable, proportionate and deliver tangible benefits. It should equally respect national sovereignty.
The UK works productively with the EU on spectrum matters, and we believe that the current system works well.
Picture credits: Kainet
One of the most remarkable crowd-fuding stories of the last years comes from Sweden. The Digital Post talks with Minut co-founder Marcus Ljungblad about how his project Point made a splash on Kickstarter.
The Digital Post: Behind “Point“ there is an outstanding crowd-funding story. Tell us more.
Marcus Ljungblad: Although we founders, Nils Mattisson, Martin Lööf, Fredrik Ahlberg and I are all from Sweden, we actually started out in Shenzhen, China. By the time we arrived in China we had put together a working prototype of a connected fire alarm. But no first prototype survives contact with user testing.
On the ground in Shenzhen, we were able to utilise the enormous eco-system to rapidly prototype and test different ideas—those who survived ultimately lead to Point. We knew we were on to something when, during a customer interview, the customer asked to buy one of the products then and there.
At that time we didn’t even know if it could be mass produced, let alone had we given Point its name. Fast-forward a couple of weeks and we launched on Kickstarter.
Over the next 30 days we raised almost 5x our goal and had received customers from every continent all across the world.
After the crowdfunding campaign ended we headed back directly to Shenzhen to get to establish the supply-chains we needed and to get Point to production. Today we are shipping our first batch, which is all sold out, to more than 2000 customers and we are a week from producing the second batch.
The Digital Post: What is Point about? How does it work?
ML: As apartment owners ourselves we felt there is a disconnect between us and our homes when we weren’t there. How can I know everything is OK at home when I’m away? Point is camera-free option to stay informed about the important things when you are away.
Did my fire alarm go off? Has there been unexpected noise? Or, if I rent out my home, how do I know that no one is smoking inside or staying quiet during late hours? Point uses a range of sensors and combines a lot environment data to inform users when something is amiss.
Everything is computed on Point, so no sensitive information ever leaves your home. It’s dead-simple to install and is designed to blend-in into any home.
The Digital Post: What should be improved in Europe to help young startups?
ML: Make it easier to offer shares and options to the earliest employees in the company. It is not only the founders who contribute to a company’s success, your first hires and are equally important and you want to reward them accordingly. While starting out, however, it is often expensive to compensate on salary only.
Shares and options offers a way to reward your employees if the company does well. A reward they are rightly entitled to! We’d love to see governments in Europe make it easier for startup founders to share their success with their employees.
The Digital Post: Can Europe match the success of Silicon Valley and Shenzen? What should be the ingredients?
ML: The aim should not be to compete with Silicon Valley or Shenzhen, these are unique ecosystems and they are extremely good at what they do already. Rather, Europe as a whole, should spend its energy doing what it does best: nurturing companies that start global from day one.
Sweden is an important market for us. Users are connected and it has an tech friendly culture. But it is too small on it’s own. If we want to truly affect users relationships with their homes we need to look beyond Sweden.The EU should continue to focus on lowering the barriers to entry to other European markets.
Soon every new company will be ready to take on the much larger, and much much more diverse, global market. And it can do so faster than it’s American and Chinese counterparts. Europe is small, diverse and open, we should use that to our advantage to compete—not to become another Silicon Valley or Shenzhen.
Photos Credit: Iwan Gabovitchhttps
London’s status as the digital capital of Europe would be at risk if we shut the door on the world’s largest market, says the leader of UK Liberal Democrats Tim Farron.
The Digital Post: What are the major dangers the UK might face if it chooses to leave the EU?
Tim Farron: Leaving the EU would damage the UK’s prosperity, security and influence in the world. Our ability to tackle major international challenges like terrorism or climate change depends on us being able to work closely with our neighbours.
As the UK’s most internationalist and outward-looking party, the Liberal Democrats’ position is clear:
[Tweet “Britain is better off in Europe and Europe is better off with Britain in it.”]
The Digital Post: What Brexit would mean for the thriving UK tech sector? How leaving the EU could affect this industry?
TF: Brexit would be a disaster for the UK’s tech sector. Almost nine in ten firms in the tech sector oppose leaving the EU. The ability to recruit skilled people easily from across the continent is hugely important. Many tech start-ups in the UK have been set up by people from around Europe, driving growth and creating new jobs in our economy.
London’s status as the digital capital of Europe would be at risk if we shut the door on the world’s largest market.
The Digital Post: David Cameron’s policy on immigration has drawn criticism from the UK tech industry given that this latter is highly dependent on foreign talents. What is your opinion?
TF: I see immigration as a blessing, not a curse. Since the turn of the century, immigration has added £20 billion to the UK economy. The Conservative Government must also stop sending mixed messages to the world’s entrepreneurs. Our country thrives when we are open to the world and welcome those who want to work hard, pay into the system and contribute to our economy and society.
photo credits: Boston Public Library
The Digital Post speaks with FTC Commissioner Julie Brill about the new ‘Safe Harbour’, the implications of the EU privacy reform, and privacy issues arising from the boom of the Internet of Thing.
The Digital Post: The European Union and the United States of America have reached an agreement on a new Safe Harbour data treaty. What are in your view the main achievements of the deal? What would have been the concrete risks if an agreement weren’t signed?
Julie Brill: The main achievement of Privacy Shield is that it provides strong privacy protections for European consumers and creates a framework for more parties to engage in active supervision and stronger enforcement cooperation. With respect to commercial data practices, Privacy Shield will provide stronger privacy protections than Safe Harbor did – through beefed up onward transfer requirements, and in other ways.
Privacy Shield will also establish more active supervision of the program in practice, so that the Department of Commerce, the European Commission, European data protection authorities (DPAs), and the FTC can detect and address any issues that come up. Privacy Shield will also provide a well-defined process for consumers to complain about the data practices of Privacy Shield companies.
The FTC will remain committed to giving priority to complaint referrals from DPAs, and there will be a better process in place for following up on these complaints. And even in the absence of referrals from DPAs, the FTC will continue to aggressively look for violations of the Privacy Shield principles.
Finally, in the area of national security, the United States agreed to take the unprecedented step of designating an ombudsperson to take complaints about surveillance activities that relate to Privacy Shield. This is in addition to the significant reforms that Congress and President Obama have made to surveillance practices in the past few years.
The risks if Privacy Shield hadn’t been agreed upon would have been that consumers and businesses would have continued in the limbo in which we currently exist, where some mechanisms to transfer personal data from the EU to the U.S. are still allowed, but they are expensive, opaque, and much more difficult for the FTC to enforce.
Of course, Privacy Shield still has many steps to take before it receives approval. If it were not approved, then companies – particularly small and medium enterprises – would lose out because of the time and resources that they have to put into alternative arrangements for data transfers.
But consumers also would lose out because they would have far less transparency into which companies are handling their data, the rules governing data transfers, and where to go to complain if they believe their rights are not being respected.
TDP: According to some observers, the new agreement won’t be sufficient to meet the concerns of the European Court of Justice. What is your opinion?
JB: It’s important to remember that the CJEU’s Schrems decision did not address national security surveillance practices in the United States. Rather, the case was based on the court’s concern that the European Commission’s adequacy decision in the year 2000 did not address U.S. privacy protections relating to national security surveillance.
It is hard to say how the CJEU would have assessed a full, accurate record concerning surveillance practices and privacy protections in the United States, had those facts been before the court. In any event, the U.S. has enacted significant reforms since the Schrems case was referred to the CJEU, and the U.S. is making further commitments through Privacy Shield.
On the whole, I believe these protections meet the CJEU’s standard of “essential equivalence to the EU legal order”, but we will have to wait to see if Privacy Shield is challenged to know whether the CJEU agrees.
TDP: Is the GDPR going to widen the chasm between EU and US regulatory approaches to data protection? How the FTC is working on this issue?
JB: The GDPR incorporates several provisions that either appeared first in the United States or are by now very familiar to companies and enforcers in the U.S. Examples include a focus on reasonable data security through a continuing process of risk assessment and mitigation, a general security breach notification requirement, heightened protections for children, privacy by design, and a recognition that deidentification can reduce privacy and security risks.
There are some differences between the European and U.S. versions of these provisions, but overall they show how developments in the U.S. can influence the direction that Europe takes.
On the other hand, some provisions of the GDPR move further away from the U.S. approach. A prime example is the GDPR’s right to be forgotten article, which extends to all data controllers. This expansion is a sharp contrast to the very targeted and specific provisions of U.S. law that help individuals keep some information about themselves obscure.
Companies and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic need to start working out answers to the many questions that the GDPR raises. That’s one reason that I think it’s so important for us to move beyond the issues surrounding mechanisms for data transfers that have dominated the discussion for the past several months.
With the announcement of an agreement on Privacy Shield in the past several weeks, I hope we now can begin to discuss the GDPR and issues like big data and the Internet of Things in a more sustained and meaningful way.
TDP: The FTC has been focusing on privacy issues related to the booming sectors of Internet of Things and Big Data. What are the risks? How regulators should deal with this very sensitive issue?
JB: There are important roles for enforcement, policy development, and business and consumer guidance in the Internet of Things and Big Data ecosystems. On the policy and guidance front, the FTC has been taking a close look at the potential benefits and risks of the Internet of Things and big data.
We have hosted public workshops, taken public comments, and written key reports on the broad range of technical and economic concerns that arise from having many more connected devices, huge volumes of personal data, and rapidly improving analytics.
We heard a lot about the exciting possibilities to solve problems in health care, transportation, the environment, education, and other areas; but we also learned about significant risks. Security is a huge challenge with the Internet of Things.
Not only are many devices being offered by companies that do not have long track records with data security, but these devices are also being used in ways that collect highly sensitive information and create physical risks to consumers.
With respect to big data, we found that there is a potential for unfairness or discrimination to enter through biases in data collection and analysis. Some of these issues could get companies into trouble under fair lending, credit reporting, or other laws. Other issues arise in settings that these laws do not cover, but companies still need to be aware of them because they may be deceptive or unfair.
Enforcement also plays an important role in the FTC’s approach. We have already brought enforcement actions relating to privacy and security violations with IoT devices. We have the authority to stop unfair or deceptive practices – whether or not they involve new technologies and business practices – and we will use it in appropriate cases.
Picture Credits: g4ll4is
The legislation agreed in mid-December by Parliament and Council negotiators marks a crucial step forward in getting away with a calamitous patchwork of national laws on data protection. However, it contains a number of inconsistencies that could negatively affect Europe’s digital ambitions.
It took nearly 4 years of bitter negotiations for the EU to strike an agreement on a sweeping overhaul of its data protection rules. But it was worth it. The legislation agreed in mid-December by Parliament and Council negotiators marks a crucial step forward in getting away with Europe’s calamitous patchwork of national laws on data protection.
The previous EU rules dated back to 1995 and their varying interpretations by Member States have contributed to create significant regulatory uncertainty while hindering innovation in critical sectors of the economy.
However, the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is far from perfect. It still presents multiple critical aspects. For instance, it fails to create a level playing field for telecom operators.
Following its introduction, the electronic communications sector will be forced to abide by a twofold regulation, complying with both the new data protection legislation and the ePrivacy Directive.
If Europe is serious about supporting growth and innovation in its digital markets, this asymmetry should be addressed as soon as possible. Otherwise it will place yet another burden on a sector which has been hit hard in recent years by a slow economic recovery while being under pressure to invest more in digital networks in order to meet the EU broadband targets.
As many know, the on-going Internet evolution has been providing breeding grounds for several new telecom-like services (including OTT services) to grow.
The point is that, unlike traditional telecom providers, such services are not necessarily bound by the terms of the ePrivacy Directive, although they are functionally equivalent to one another.
As a consequence, different rules applying to equivalent services inevitably create unfair competition between telecom operators as well as legal uncertainty and general confusion among consumers.
In order for consumers to benefit from a consistent regulation, regardless of the service provider in question, a prompt revision of the ePrivacy Directive is thus required.
But the negative implications of the new regulation on data protection could be larger, stretching far beyond the telecoms sector.
DigitalEurope, the main association representing the digital technology industry in Europe, believes that the legislation fails to strike the proper balance between protecting citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and the ability for businesses in Europe to become more competitive.
The text agreed upon between the European Commission, European Parliament and the Council of Ministers contains a number of stringent obligations that could be very costly for IT businesses, undermining their ability to invest, innovate and create jobs.
European businesses, traditionally less equipped to meet these obligations, could be hit hard. And, of course, this is in stark contrast with Europe’s ambitions to create a generation of home-grown global leaders in the tech sector.
Another matter of concern is the so-called is the compromise reached on the so-called “one-stop-shop”, according to which tech companies operating in different countries will deal with only one data-protection authority, namely where their European headquarter is based.
As Member states managed to weaken this principle, as recently reported by Reuters, some obervers believe that this will create more legal confusion and litiges (for instance, to determine what is the concerned national authority). Again: the bill for the companies could be very expensive.
Following the political agreement reached in trilogue, the final text of the data protection regulation will be formally adopted by the European Parliament and Council in a few weeks. Maybe there is still room to fix its inconsistencies.
Photo credit: Martin Fisch
Ever since the terrorist Paris attacks in November the debate over government ‘backdoors’ into encryption has been back in the spotlight. For obvious reasons the US is at the forefront of the dispute as it is home to an overwhelming share of the world’s leading businesses in the digital sector.
US authorities are increasingly seeking the cooperation of these companies with regard to special access on encrypted systems as part of the on-going government campaign against terrorism.
However, Silicon valley companies and civil society groups reject such calls on the grounds that this will undermine the digital security, posing a threat to crucial rights such as privacy or freedom of expression (Apple CEO Tim Cook has emerged as the most vocal industry leader in criticizing federal plans to weaken encryption).
The truth is both camps may have a point. That is why it is difficult to pick a side in such a complex and mostly technical discussion, as it is very hard to tell how to strike a right balance between security and privacy matters.
In this respect, it is interesting to note the opinion expressed by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum that is currently taking place in Davos.
According to Mr. Stephenson, it’s the congress, not the companies, that should determine U.S. policy on access to encrypted data on cellphones and other devices. “I personally think that this is an issue that should be decided by the American people and Congress, not by companies,” Mr. Stephenson said on Wednesday, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
For the record, Mr. Stephenson added that his own company has been unfairly singled out in the debate over access to data. “It is silliness to say there’s some kind of conspiracy between the U.S. government and AT&T,” he said, clarifying that the company turns over information only when accompanied by a warrant or court order.
It is hard to dissent with the fact that the decision on access to encrypted data should lie with democratically elected instances.
Encryption is bound to become a key issue on the 2016 presidential race – as the latest Democratic Party presidential debate has clearly shown –, although barely 10% of US adults say they have encrypted their communications, according to a recent Pew Research poll. Therefore, the American electorate will soon have a say on the matter.
This could sound as a simplistic way to address the issue (digital activites are pointing out that US politicians have little knowledge of the issue).
But if the topic of encryption is properly addressed in the context of an open and democratic discussion, and any action is ultimately taken with the backing of elected representatives, there is little reason to complain.
Even so (and if basic rights are being put at risk, as some may suggest) modern democracies, such as the US, offer the legal means to challenge – and sometimes reverse – a decision through federal courts.
On Tuesday European Parliament will vote its position on the Digital Market Strategy (DSM). The raportuer for the text, MEP Kaja Kallas, explains what the legislative assembly is asking the Commission: i.e. more pro-innovation policies, more support to the sharing economy, less digital portectionism.
The Digital Post: What are the main requests laid out in the EP position on the DSM?
Kaja Kallas: The most important aspect of this report is its overarching strong support for innovation- friendly policies and its pro-innovation tone, especially with regard to online platforms. To point out some more specific paragraphs, I would emphasize the digital transformation plan and the big data review which aims to remove barriers to promote innovation in the data driven sector.
TDP: What are the actions, if any, stated in the DSM that the EP would like to be tweaked or on which it has some doubts?
KK: The EP report is sceptical of the Commission’s approach when it comes to platforms and is somewhat critical of the consultation which had leading questions in it. We are not sure if the outcome is the result of open questions or whether it is based on the ones that were a bit leading.
The EP’s report clarifies things that the DSM strategy does not. For example, it is clearly against consolidation in the telecoms sector. Also, the once only principle to be applied in public administration (so not just a pilot project) is brought in, and it goes beyond the strategy on things that we felt were necessary to cover in the report (sharing economy and the digital transformation of the industry for instance).
TDP: How the EP position is supporting sharing economy, as you have stated?
KK: The report shows strong support for the sharing economy and calls for the removal of artificial barriers which hinder its growth. This will enable us to reap the benefits of the digital market and create new opportunities for businesses, citizens, public bodies and consumers.
The report even states that employment laws should be updated to allow new flexible forms of employment to emerge.
TDP: What do you think of the approach of the Commission as regards online platforms?
KK: The consultation launched by the Commission seems to have been more focused on calming down the voices in some member states asking for protectionist measures against American companies.
There is nothing wrong with investigating whether there are problems, but the questions we pose should be open ended and aimed at really understanding the problems. This should not be about protectionism.
photo credit: Dan Mason
We welcome the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that was agreed in mid-December, as it marks a crucial step forward. However, it fails to create a level playing field for telecom operators. And still presents multiple critical aspects.
Following the introduction of the regulation, the electronic communications sector will be forced to abide by a twofold regulation, complying with both the new data protection legislation and the ePrivacy Directive. If Europe wants to support the growth and innovation spreading out within its convergent digital markets, this asymmetry needs to be addressed shortly.
The ongoing, rapid Internet evolution has been providing breeding grounds for several new telecom-alike services (including OTT services) to grow. The point is that, unlike traditional telecom providers, such services are not necessarily bound by the terms of ePrivacy Directive, although they are functionally equivalent to one another.
As a consequence, different rules applying to equivalent services inevitably create unfair competition between telecom operators as well as legal uncertainty and general confusion among consumers. In order for them to benefit from a consistent regulation, regardless of the service provider in question, a prompt revision of the ePrivacy Directive is required.
European Commission’s alleged plans to impose monitoring obligations (“duty of care”) on online platforms would undermine the Internet as a platform open to posting and sharing content, argues Jens-Henrik Jeppesen, Representative and Director for European Affairs at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).
The Digital Post: The European Commission’s consultation on the role of online platforms hints at expanding the liability of intermediaries as regards illegal content hosted online. What exactly the Commission has in mind?
Jens-Henrik Jeppesen: We do not know exactly what the Commission has in mind. In its various recent policy statements the Commission has only hinted at the prospect of changing the current rules.
This is the case, both in the Digital Single Market Communication from May 2015, the DSM Platforms Consultation that has just finished (see CDT response here) and in the 9 December Copyright Communication.
In the latter document, the Commission says that it will consider options for amending the IP Enforcement Directive. It also notes that the platforms consultation raises the option of ’take down and stay down’.
Effectively this can only mean introduction of a general monitoring obligation on intermediaries, which is not allowed under the E-Commerce Directive. We want to preserve this protection.
TDP: What might be the general implications of these obligations, were it introduced?
JHJ: As we explain in various of our statements and documents, a monitoring obligation if it were to be introduced, would require intermediaries of all kinds to police, screen and filter for content that might be argued by some to be illegal.
This could be anything from alleged hate speech, defamation, radicalising content, or copyright infringement. It is often a difficult, delicate and highly subjective evaluation to make.
It would undermine the Internet as we know it as a platform open to posting and sharing of blogs, comments, podcasts, pictures and all kinds of material because any hosting platform would have to first ensure that whatever is posted/shared cannot be judged to be illegal.
The incentives for intermediaries would be to be overly restrictive to avoid expensive legal challenges and lawsuits. The consequence would without a doubt be to severely restrict free expression and debate on the Internet.
It would also impose massive costs and risks on start up Internet companies – exactly the type of enterprise European politicians would like to see grow and scale.
TDP: How, then, to ensure “greater responsibility” from online intermediaries without resorting to new legal obligations?
JHJ: First of all, the current rules (the E-Commerce Directive) rightly shield intermediaries from liability – but only if they take action once notified about illegal content on their networks. So, an intermediary cannot simply ignore notification that illegal content has been published on their network or platform.
If it does not act on a notice, it will lose its liability protection. That is already a strong incentive for intermediaries to act swiftly when notified about illegal content. Further, most intermediaries enforce their own terms of service.
Most social networks give users the possibility to flag content and comments that they consider to be illegal or against terms of service (for example, racist or anti-Semitic comments).
The same applies to content that violates copyright. There are also various agreements to ‘follow-the-money’, i.e. make it difficult for websites that systematically offer pirated content on a commercial scale to operate.
There is for example an memorandum of understanding between trademark owners and online trading services to stop trading in counterfeit goods, illegal medicines and the like.
TDP: The Centre for Democracy and Technology has also voiced doubts regarding the way the Commission is using the notion of “online platforms”. Why?
JHJ: As we explain in our platforms consultation response, the platforms definition is so broad that it captures so many types of companies in different industries that it becomes meaningless.
Furthermore, these companies are already subject to consumer rules, competition rules, data protection law etc., no matter whether they operate wholly or partly or not at all online.
It is not clear that it makes sense to create a new category of company to which particular regulation applies. Technology and business models evolve rapidly, and laws should not be drafted for specific technologies or business models.
photo credits: James Lavin
Artificial Intelligence is here to stay and is going to change our civilization in profound ways. That is why we must learn to live alongside machines and to make the best of their intelligence, argues Nell Watson engineer, entrepreneur and futurist thinker at Singularity University.
How do you see the AI developing in 10 years time? And what kind of challenges you see in perspective?
What are the main changes in our society that would result from such an evolution of machine learning?
What would be the negative impact and how to avoid it?
What kind of regulation would be needed? Should decision-makers start looking into it as of now?
Within the cultural landscape, if you should choose a science fiction book or movie, which better describes a likely future about the evolution of the Artificial Intelligence?
Nell Watson is an engineer, entrepreneur, and futurist thinker who grew up in Northern Ireland. She has a longstanding interest in the psychology of technology, and how that combination creates emerging social trends. Nell lectures globally on Machine Intelligence, AI philosophy, Human-Machine relations, and the Future of Human Society.
A conversation with Chris Fabian, co-creator of the UNICEF’s Innovation Unit, which act as an incubator and accelerator of technologies and innovative solutions to strengthen child protection.
Chris Fabian: UNICEF has a history of innovating for children. For nearly 70 years, UNICEF has come up with solutions like the MUAC band, oral rehydration salts, and the Mark II Handpump. To meet the challenges all children are facing in this fast-changing world, we need innovations from the ground-up, developed by the people they aim to serve.
UNICEF uses innovation to create solutions that strengthen its work in child protection, health, education, and other areas, bringing essential services to the world’s most vulnerable children.
At UNICEF, our Innovation Unit creates options for children. We act as an incubator and accelerator of new technologies and solutions. The team focuses on startup investments through its Innovation Fund, on mid-stage support and partnerships with technology leaders through its San Francisco node, and on scaling up approaches that show results through its Global Innovation Centre.
Our team has helped build the largest mobile health system called RapidSMS in Nigeria that has reported more than 18 million births by SMS (http://rapidsmsnigeria.org/br) as well as U-Report, which enables over 1.8 million young people in 18 countries to be connected to decision makers via SMS (http://www.ureport.in). We have also built open source platforms like RapidPro which help governments develop applications to understand the situation of teachers (EduTrac), health workers (mTrac), or other vital links to communities through rapid, actionable data (https://community.rapidpro.io/).
TDP: What can the tech community do to help European countries address the current refugee crisis?
CF: The best problem-solvers are often those who have the biggest problems. People who live in resource-constrained communities can come up with incredibly creative solutions. In many places where UNICEF works, we find those constraints. We work with these problem-solvers, in their environments, to help them build and scale solutions.
Here are four of the things that the tech community can do to help address the current refugee crisis:
– Open source development: If you are a designer or developer and want to get involved in building solutions to mitigate the current refugee crisis, make sure you understand the specifics of the problem on the ground and build your technology under fully open licenses (BSD, A/LGPL, CC-BY-SA).
– Share and connect with others: Governments are already working with partners on the ground that are coming together to build open source tools. Connect with them.
– Give money to organizations that are on the ground: Your donation will go further if you give money to organizations which have staff and existing programs on the ground and are well integrated into the overall responses across Europe and the refugees’ routes.
– Propel solutions that are being created by those affected by the problem: One of the best ways to drive immediate change is to support organizations and people that are building solutions locally with technologies that are already accepted in their ecosystem. Solutions on locally built open source technologies can scale quickly.
We have developed a set of principles, including open collaboration and learning from past failures, that have informed our successes and been built from our failures, such as design with the user, understand the existing ecosystem, design for scale, build for sustainability, be data driven, use open standards, open data, open source and open innovation, reuse and improve, do no harm, be collaborative.
TDP: Can you name examples where digital technologies have proved helpful in respect to the current refugees crisis and in particular in helping children?
CF: Last year, UNICEF was preparing to distribute winter supply kits in Lebanon. However, since people have been moving from one place to another due to the refugee crisis, it was difficult to track their locations to distribute the winter kits.
A team of innovation experts at UNICEF Lebanon designed a distribution system (UNISupply) utilizing an all-digital platform and tablet computers to better track and monitor the distribution of winter clothes to Syrian refugee children across hundreds of informal settlements in Lebanon.
UNICEF can now respond more efficiently than before in reaching the most vulnerable children. We can learn two things from this: 1) Technology helps us get information faster than ever; 2) Living in a connected world, we can make locally developed solutions become globally applicable.
TDP: How can digital technologies contribute to address the challenge of integration?
CF: When people are given a voice and can communicate with those around them, they quickly learn that their problems aren’t theirs alone. Realizing that others are going through similar hardships reduces fear, uncertainty, and it allows people to come together to solve problems in unique ways.
Integration is the realization of common human constructs, even among uncommon partners, in difficult times. During the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in 2014 and 2015, we set up U-Report and helped 60,000 young people communicate directly with people in government to make positive changes. U-Report helped open the door to those realizations. With U-Report, young people are making their voices count and can access new opportunities.
TDP: In a continent as Europe, where there is a huge shortage of ICT workers, can the wave of immigrants be translated into an opportunity? How?
CF: Some of the biggest problems in the world are often not specific to a country or continent. Problems are shared by everyone: whether it’s climate change, job automation, or the migratory movement of 60 million people.
We should be looking at global machinery to solve global problems. From our teams’ experience, we know that the best solutions are often created by heterogeneous people and some of the best opportunities are created by those who have the most needs.
For example, if an organization or someone starts a company to solve a problem that is unrelated to them, that company will most likely fail because of the lack of understanding of the problem that needs to be solved. But, if we take a problem that seems foreign to us and we make it our own, we have a far better chance of making that solution scale.
Now, imagine people from different countries of origin with diverse life experiences coming together: you are actually uniting a strong group of people bringing valuable assets, looking to build a stronger world and a global community of problem-solvers.
Christopher Fabian co-created and has co-lead UNICEF’s Innovation Unit in New York since 2007 - follow him @
photo credit: UNICEF Ethiopia
Implementing effective policies to counter the terrorists’ use of the Internet should be part of a strengthened cooperation between Europe and the North-African region, argues Hicham Rahil, National Bureau Member of Popular Movement of Morocco.
Terrorist networks such as IS are increasingly making use of the internet. What can we do to effectively face this threat at a global level?
What kind of cooperation with North-African countries does Europe need today to face the ongoing terroristic threat?
You advocate more cooperation between Europe, the North African region, and, more generally, the Mediterranean countries to oppose terrorism. Do you think the digital dimension should be part of this?
Do you have the impression that Europe is excessively focusing on Syria and overlooking the terrorist threat in Sahel and North Africa?
photo credit: Rappler.com
In an exclusive interview with The Digital Post, Gianluca Vialli speaks about Tifosy, the crowdfunding platform he co-founded which is specifically designed to help football clubs raise financing for their projects.
What is Tifosy about, and how did you come up with this innovative concept?
Tifosy is about helping football clubs become more sustainable and closer to their supporters. Our purpose is to to unleash the huge potential of fans and clubs working together in partnership to develop the game they love. The concept is actually not mine, but I met the CEO Fausto last year and decided that this can be a great way to improve the game and I wanted to be a part of it.
Football nowadays goes way beyond those eleven men who wear the club colors and fight on the pitch every week for their fans; indeed, it is increasingly becoming a real business. How do you think Tifosy can make a difference in the future of the Beautiful Game in this sense?
What we hope to be able to do is to help football clubs become more sustainable in the way they do business. We do this by helping to raise the finance needed to invest in the future – for example in training facilities, or in improvements to the stadium – which can improve the club’s performance on the pitch or simply help them develop commercially. A properly-run football club needs to get itself out of debt and have be self-sufficient, and we try to help them set that up. The final point is that football clubs must start to listen to their fans. If they do that, and gain their loyalty and trust, the fans will always be there and happy to support when you need it most.
The ongoing digital transformation, along with the technology that fuels it, has enabled supporters to interact with their clubs beyond the ninety minutes of the matches. What strategy/model should football business actually follow to make the most of today’s digital opportunities?
They need to see their fans not as numbers on a web page or through the turnstile. Football fans need to be partners with the club in the future. This means building a strong connection and relationship between fans and club, and being open and transparent about how the club is being run. In terms of digital opportunities, the internet gives clubs all the tools they need to create a dialogue, involve fans in the running of the club, and ask for their support when needed. Most clubs aren’t doing those things yet, but it’s starting to change.
Both digital world and football industry are growing truly fast. How do you see this relationship evolving ten years from now, and how can these elements help each other thrive?
If you look at the US sports market, they’re already way ahead of us in terms of how they are using digital to dramatically improve the experience for fans. Football is playing catchup, but as the world’s biggest game it’s only a matter of time before it gets back to being the leader. In 10 years I think we’ll see a much more involved and immersive experience for fans, and an even closer relationship with the clubs. It’s going to be the people’s game again.
Gianluca Vialli is an Italian football manager and former footballer who played as a forward. Since retiring, he has gone into management and punditry and is a commentator for Sky Sport Italia
photo credit: Peter / Daylinews24
Platforms will be a major driving force for the economic growth in Europe and that’s why we have to show common sense when it comes to legislating on them, argues Czech MEP Dita Charanzová in a interview with The Digital Post on the sidelines of the TechFast session at Hanover Brussels.
How do you see the role of the European Parliament in the current debate about platform regulation?
Is regulation needed to address the dominant position of some platforms, i.e. to level the playingfield in the digital sphere?
How the EU can protect consumers without hurting the European startup ecosystem through over-regulation?
What are the right policies to help the European tech sector to compete with its US counterparts?
photo credit: daliscar1
The Digital Post has met James Windon and Matt Mahan, respectively President and CEO of Brigade, the new much-hyped app for sharing political views. For now, the primary aim of the platform is to boost civic engagement in the US in view of the next presidential elections. Can it become also in Europe a useful tool to bridge the historical gap between the EU and its citizens?
What is the main idea behind Brigade?
What has been the general response so far? How do you think the tool might be of help in the context of the next US presidential elections?
How social and technologies can play a role in enhancing civic engagement?
Internet can be a formidable tool to push political engagement, but also towards undemocratic values, as it is illustrated in Europe by the rise of populism movements, which have been thriving on the use of social networks and media. What do you think?
photo credit: Stuart Boreham
Fintech startups and traditional banks are increasingly realizing that they need to collaborate to capture new opportunities, argues Mariano Belinky, Managing Partner at Santander InnoVentures. Traditional banks can learn from startups new ways of serving costumers while startups can leverage banks’ consumers to bring them their products.
The Digital Post: How InnoVentures is supporting the growing wave of fintech firms? What are the main aims of the fund?
TDP: Can fintech startups be an opportunity, instead of a threat, for traditional bannks?
TDP: How the rise of fintech firms are affecting and can reshape the financial sector, and in particular the baking industry?
TDP: Santander is among the banks investigating into the technology underpinning bitcoin. What is the potential for the traditional banking sector?
TDP: Is funding still a major barrier for the European startup ecosystem?
Mariano Belinky: Since December 2014 he manages Santander InnoVentures, Santander Group's global venture capital fund, focused in early stage Financial Technology investments. He joined Santander InnoVentures from McKinsey & Co., where he was an Associate Principal in the Corporate and Investment Banking and Global Risk Management practices, based in New York. Here, he spent six years advising global banks, asset managers and private equity firms acrossNorth America, Europe and Latin America on multiple strategic topics.
photo credit: Chewy734
In an exclusive interview released on the sidelines of the Web Summit in Dublin, the European Ombudsman talks with The Digital Post about the relationship between EU citizens and institutions in the time of social media, the impact of tech lobbying and much more.
Do you think digital technologies are improving the accountability of the EU institutions and their democratic dimension?
How the EU Ombudsman stand up for new forms of participative democracy based on digital technologies?
U.S. tech companies are the biggest spenders on corporate lobbying in Brussels. Do you see any risk?
Critics argue that Europe’s approach to U.S. tech companies is driven by protectionism. What is your opinion?
A few months ago the EU Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the EC’s handling of the Google antitrust case. How the investigation is progressing?
Emily O'Reilly was elected as the European Ombudsman in July 2013 and took office on 1 October 2013. She was re-elected in December 2014 for a five year mandate. She is an author and former journalist and broadcaster who became Ireland's first female Ombudsman and Information Commissioner in 2003 and in 2007 she was also appointed Commissioner for Environmental Information.
Photo credit:Matt Foster
Licensed drivers don’t have any disadvantages that couldn’t be fixed with the right motivation, says Markus Villig, founder and Ceo of Taxify, the “anti-Uber” application aiming to help traditional taxi firms and drivers respond to Uber and its likes.
Markus Villig: Taxify helps taxi companies grow their business with great technology they couldn’t afford themselves. In most countries a taxi license costs just 300€, so taxis don’t have a big fundamental disadvantage to ridesharing apps with unlicensed drivers.
With the help of convenient booking applications & improved service standards, taxi companies can successfully adapt and grow their market share.
Most people actually prefer licensed drivers who can use fast-lanes, if their service, quality and price are on the same level as private drivers.
The Digital Post: Is the idea behind Taxify concretely working? What is the response of taxi firms and that of the consumers?
Markus Villig: Taxify has thousands of drivers and hundreds of thousands of customers using the platform every month. This shows that people have nothing against taxis, but they have a problem with the bad quality and high prices taxis historically have had. Taxify solves that, by making licensed drivers actually attractive.
The Digital Post: How does your start-up operate nowadays? What are the plans for the future?
Markus Villig: We are growing fast and opening new cities every month. We already are the market leader in Eastern-Europe and our first goal is to become the largest taxi app in all of Europe by number of bookings in 2016.
Our goal is to provide people with the most convenient and affordable transport we can, so taxis are not a niche service, but a mainstream alternative to public transport.
The Digital Post: Your experience shows that the so-called “uberification” of the economy can be turned in favour of the very traditional business models it is said to threaten. What do you think?
Markus Villig: Licensed drivers don’t have any disadvantages that couldn’t be fixed with the right motivation. Historically taxis have had the freedom to overcharge and offer low quality services.
With the launch of new unregulated ridesharing apps, the licensed providers are feeling enough pressure to change their offering. Taxify is there to accelerate this process and provide the tools needed to survive.
Markus Villig is the founder and CEO of Taxify, the largest taxi booking app in Eastern Europe.
photo credit: Gisela Giardino
One of the key points of the Google antitrust case in Europe is that there are also US companies among the complainants, which contradicts the argument that the EU is adopting a protectionist approach against US innovation, argues MEP Ramon Tremosa.
Have you had any second thoughts about the “Google break-up” motion?
Are we sure Europe is not waging a “protectionist” war against US tech giants as many critics argue?
Ms Vestager has taken an hard line on the Google case. After the first SO sent in April, what do you expect she will do in the following months?
Some critics insist that it remains difficult to determine an anti-competitive behavior in the online search business. What is your view about that?
US tech giants, including Google, are investing more and more millions to influence the European policy. What is your opinion about that?
Ramon Tremosa i Balcells is a Democratic Convergence of Catalonia politician - The Liberal Party in the current government of Cataluña. He follows the Economic and International Trade committee in the EP as well as the USA and Israel Dele. He has a special interest in economics, transport, logistics, trade and competition cases, in particular in the digital market field and the Google antitrust case.
photo credit: brett jordan
For the past two years, Europe has provided between 1/3 and 1/4 of the world MOOCs, although big platforms are based in the US., says Michael Gaebel from the European University Association.
Michael Gaebel: While there is talk that the hype is over, the number of MOOCs is still on rise.
The Digital Post: Is Europe still lagging behind?
Michael Gaebel: For the past two years, Europe has provided between 1/3 and 1/4 of the world MOOC production. Hence, I would not really see this as staying behind. What is true that the big MOOC platforms and also many of the companies providing services and technology are based in the US. But this is due to economics (availability of venture capital) rather than education.
The Digital Post: How to catch up with this gap? What measures should be launched at European level?
Michael Gaebel: We would not necessarily support to encourage a stronger response to MOOCs. We think MOOCs have played and still play an important role in promoting and mainstreaming e-learning, both within and outside of the institutions. They have been useful in raising awareness and interest, and stimulating a debate on the broader use of e-learning.
However, they are just one particular (and also not so clearly defined) type of digital learning. We believe that it is important to reflect and explore how institutions can make best use of digital learning, and also consider the role of “e” in research, and governance.
Our research shows that institutions care developing strategies and enhance capacities and resources.
National approaches should support these developments, and also support inter-institutional cooperation and synergies, and then there is also the question of how to develop a European dimension, and e.g. use the existing instruments
This concern e.g. Bologna lines and instruments – such as mobility, and there are also legal issues to be considered, such as use of data, copy rights, IPRs etc. The EC has made a good contribution in promoting open access and open educational resources.
Michael Gaebel is the head of the Higher Education Policy Unit, which focuses on issues related to higher education learning and teaching, including the Bologna Process, lifelong learning, e-learning and MOOCs, internationalisation and global dialogue. Before joining EUA, Michael worked for more than a decade in higher education cooperation and development in the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and Asia. From 2002 to 2006, he was the European Co-Director of the ASEAN-EU University Network Programme (AUNP) in Bangkok.
photo credit: S B F Ryan
Stefano Trumpy, the former delegate for Italy in the Governmental Advisory Committee of ICANN, explains why the transition process of IANA functions has been delayed and what to expect in the following months.
The Digital Post: The US government has announced that it will renew the IANA contract for one year, pushing back the IANA transition deadline date to 1 October 2016. What was your first impression?
Stefano Trumpy: I have been the Governmental Advisory Committee Representative for Italy from 1999 through 2014 and now I am operating in EURALO.
ICANN creation has been a follow on of the white book signed in 1988 by Clinton-Gore asking for internationalizing the management of DNS and for an increased offer of generic Top Level Domain Names.
ICANN started it’s operations in 1999 with a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Department of Commerce – NTIA conceived to last two years; actually the MoU was renewed every two years until 2009 when the MoU has been substituted by the Affirmation of Commitments (AoC) with NTIA signed in September 2009.
The AoC didn’t stop the continuation of the IANA zero dollars contract between ICANN and NTIA. The 2014 announcement revealed the final intention of US government to cease the oversight of the DNS management.
To be noted that setting up ICANN as an experimental multistakeholder initiative to internationalize the DNS management was conceived during a democratic US presidency; the evolution of the US government direct monitoring of ICANN towards the AoC agreement happened in 2009 under another democratic Presidency as well as the NTIA announcement of 2014.
If we look at the IANA project to be discontinued in 2016, US will be in front of next elections campaign to renew the US Presidency.
It is evident that among the republicans there are some perplexities about the interruption of an activity that could be considered as an important asset for US industry.
Up to now there are no signals in the auditions in the senate that the republicans want to suspend the IANA transition but they have started to put conditions that could render the transition more problematic.
The Digital Post: What are the main reasons behind this delay within the IANA transition?
Stefano Trumpy: The main reasons are connected to the hard work made by the multistakeholder groups involved in preparing the final proposal for the transition to be submitted to the NTIA – DoC a few months in advance of the next deadline of the IANA project.
An enormous amount of work has been engaged in order to meet requirements stated in the announcement of NTIA of March 14 2014 in order to meet the deadline of contract foreseen for end of September 2015.
The groups involved in preparing the transition project are:
– IGC (IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group) that is operating independently from ICANN;
– CCWG (Cross Community working group on enhancing ICANN Accountability) that is operating inside ICANN structure
– CWG (IANA Stewardship transition proposal on Naming Related functions) that is operating inside ICANN structure.
An estimated amount of working hours dedicated up to now by the mentioned working groups to prepare the material for the IANA transition is in the order of fourty thousand; the agreements of involved constituencies in some of the hypothesis left open for final approval need some more work but the major part of the work is already done.
The Digital Post: Considering that once the community proposal is finalized, it will then take a few months for the US Gov., i.e. for NTIA, to evaluate and adopt it, not to speak about the implementation process, don’t you fear that the delay could well be more than 1 year?
Stefano Trumpy: NTIA – DOC needs some time to evaluate the IANA transition proposal as regards the respect of the conditions imposed in March 14th 2014 summarized in the following:
a) Assure DNS management more secure and accountable
b) No further governments direct involvement in DNS management and IANA function in particular.
Therefore the proposal should be delivered possibly not later than in early spring 2016. In my opinion, having followed remotely the auditions in the US Senate on the IANA transition, it could happen that the proposal approval will take more than 4 or 5 months; In a recent statement, NTIA Administrator Larry Strikling said the US contract with ICANN could be further extended up to a limit of three years.
The Digital Post: Some observers warn that if the US abandons its oversight of core internet functions this may open the door to a more inter-governmental approach with countries like China and Russia seeking to have a disproportionate influence in the operation of the Internet that would have otherwise been kept at bay by US government watchdogs. What is your opinion?
Stefano Trumpy: NTIA – DoC has been very clear on the aspect of governmental involvement in DNS management and IANA service in particular; then it is clear that if for example China and or Russia will try to have voice in the management of IANA, the IANA transition proposal will be rejected by the US.
Another personal consideration is that, after a successful IANA transition, nothing will change that could ease disproportionate influence in the operation of the Internet by other countries.
If, in the end the transition will not take place, my guess is that the international debate referring to the privileged role of US in directing IANA service, will go ahead in the post WSIS + 10 years with an enormous amount of energies spent to diplomatically oblige US to abandon it’s supervisory role on Internet’s addressing system.
Therefore, I really hope that the condition will be met to present a satisfactory IANA transition project by March or April next year to NTIA. What means satisfactory?
I recommend the IGC that, when there are different options to assure the continuation of the present role of NTIA, please chose the simpler solution that guarantee a smooth continuation of the service and do not disturb the operational role of ICANN.
Stefano Trumpy: Born in 1945. Engineering degree. Director of the CNUCE Research Institute of the National Reseacrh Council from ‘83 through ‘96. Pioneer of the introduction of the Internet in Italy. Administrator of the ccTLD ".it" since its inception in 1987, until 1999. Delegate for Italy in the Governmental Advisory Committee of ICANN (1999-2014). He brought the CNUCE Institute among the founders of the Internet Society (ISOC) in 1992 and he is the Chair of the Italian Chapter of the Internet society. He is a member of the promoting committee of IGF Italy. He participated, since the beginning, in the Internet Governance Forums promoted by the United Nations.
photo credit: 1-defending-icann
The European Commission has just launched a consultation to look into the needs for Internet speed and quality beyond 2020. We need to make sure that our broadband policies are driven by a vision that takes into account all the different scenarios we may face in the next twenty years, says Anna Krzyżanowska, Head of Unit Broadband at DG CONNECT.
The Digital Post: What is the purpose of the consultation?
Anna Krzyżanowska: Just after the launch of the Digital Single Market strategy and five years before the broadbandtarget date we have realized that the most active families and SMEs using current applications and services may be needing more than 30 megabits per second.
At the same time several organizations, including public institutions such as schools, may need a connection of more than 100 megabytes per second in order to perform their online activities.
Hence, having reviewed the available literature and the projections on the increased use of Internet networks, we want to know what is the opinion of the general public regarding the connectivity needs they might have beyond 2020.
Let me also stress one more important element of reflection: at the moment in Europe there is a large availability of publicly supported funds, with the European structural funds alone providing six billion euros for broadband networks and the opportunity to unlock huge resources under the European Strategic Investment Fund.
We need to make sure that these investments are supported by decisions and by a vision that look beyond 2020 to the trends of the next ten or twenty years.
The Digital Post: In a word, the consultation will help shape the new European Digital Single Market after 2020.
Anna Krzyżanowska: Definitely. This consultation is part of an evidence building exercise which will orientate our decisions as to whether or not a new broadband policy should emerge within the context of the digital single market.
It’s not about what we want to build or what we’re building today, but whether that’s going to be enough to enable the considerable benefits that the digital single market can bring us.
This is the main question we are trying to answer through this consultation by focusing on those sectors that will be the main users and beneficiaries of the digital single market.
The Digital Post: What are the sectors whose demand for connectivity will jump in the following years?
Anna Krzyżanowska: We want to listen from people building applications or those currently developing band-hungry services, mainly game producers or media companies.
We will look at the needs that will be generated by cloud computing as well as by the expanding availability of shared software and shared platforms, which is of particular importance for the definition of the needed upload capacity of networks.
In addition to that, there are certain services that will require higher security or ubiquitous access. It is difficult to imagine for instance a ministry of education introducing electronic school books if it cannot do it across the territory.
A similar consideration applies for instance to health monitoring, which could bring enormous savings to the public sector by keeping people out of institutionalized health, i.e. out of hospitals.
We will also take inspiration from the research programs of the Commission focusing on future services: on health services or in the manufacturing sector. And we obviously will talk to automotive companies which are working on the connected car.
At the moment we’re doing fine but what will be the implications for the quality of networks when all of us in Europe will have a connected car?
The Digital Post: And from the point of view of the households what will be the main factors driving a higher demand?
Anna Krzyżanowska: Looking at the future, it is the cloud computing which will mostly drive the need for more connectivity, especially in terms of upload speed. As for the download, the same can be said for the consumption and exchange of video content.
However, it is also very difficult to define what a household is. In the case of somebody starting his own company and working from home the needs of a household turn into those of a small enterprise, and in that particular case the value of services or software sharing becomes extremely important.
In any case, it’s very unpredictable what our home connection will serve in 10 years time. That is why we need to make sure that our investment decisions may reflect the different scenarios we may face in the future.
The Digital Post: However, setting higher broadband targets might stir discontent among some telecoms stakeholders.
Anna Krzyżanowska: The reaction of different stakeholders may be quite predictable. There’s a general resistance in accepting that the world is going in a certain direction.
Hence, we are not starting with a proposal, but rather with a public consultation so as to allow everybody to voice their views and perhaps their reservations.
Having said that, I believe that we can find plenty of examples in which we have underestimated technological developments and the strain they have put on infrastructures.
This is all the more true for the digital networks: we are not only facing more people using these infrastructures but we also facing different ways of using them. Hence, whereas it may be not in the interest of some people to have that discussion, I believe that it is very important.
Big telecom companies often tell us that the demand would not materialize quickly enough. And I believe that in some cases they’re right: there are some countries or certain population categories that are more conservative than others and it’s very difficult to make a generalized statement.
However, I believe that speed or quality of connection is addictive and it is contagious so the more people have it the more people will ask for it and that will probably drive the dynamics of demand fairly quickly.
The Digital Post: What is the link between this consultation and the concomitant consultation on the review of the telecom framework?
Anna Krzyżanowska: Telecom review is a legal requirement of the legislation. On one hand it is written within the legislation that it needs to be periodically reviewed.
Second, the Commission has made a commitment to better regulation and we in general look whether the regulation proposed has fulfilled its objectives, whether it’s still effective efficient and effective and has the right impact.
From that perspective we would have done a review of the framework irrespectively of whether the market needs for connectivity change or not. But since we have an instinct that they are changing and they will be actually changing throughout the period of the review and beyond, it is obviously important to link the two processes.
Regulation is there for a reason and the reason is to make sure that the consumers get the connectivity that they want. From that perspective there’s no difference between the regulatory objective and the policy objective as it is explained in the digital agenda and as it is intended in the digital single market.
I believe it’s particularly good that policy reflection, regulatory fine-tuning or improvements and the availability of funds are actually happening at the same time.
Anna Krzyżanowska is the Head of Unit « Broadband » at DG CONNECT of the European Commission. In addition to policy activities focusing on achieving Digital Agenda for Europe broadband targets, she is coordinating the efforts related to Connecting Europe Facility and future Cohesion Framework in the areas relevant to DG CONNECT.